10 March 2016

The New Yorker: “Gravitational Waves Exist: The Inside Story of How Scientists Finally Found Them”

As it happens, the particular frequencies of the waves that LIGO can detect fall within the range of human hearing, between about thirty-five and two hundred and fifty hertz. The chirp was much too quiet to hear by the time it reached Earth, and LIGO was capable of capturing only two-tenths of a second of the black holes’ multibillion-year merger, but with some minimal audio processing the event sounds like a glissando. “Use the back of your fingers, the nails, and just run them along the piano from the lowest A up to middle C, and you’ve got the whole signal,” Weiss said.

Different celestial sources emit their own sorts of gravitational waves, which means that LIGO and its successors could end up hearing something like a cosmic orchestra. “The binary neutron stars are like the piccolos”, Reitze said. Isolated spinning pulsars, he added, might make a monochromatic “ding” like a triangle, and black holes would fill in the string section, running from double bass on up, depending on their mass. LIGO, he said, will only ever be able to detect violins and violas; waves from supermassive black holes, like the one at the center of the Milky Way, will have to await future detectors, with different sensitivities.

Nicola Twilley

Wonderful confirmation of Einstein’s theory of general relativity, a full century after its original publication. Beside the more evident advancements in cosmology, the years-long effort put into this experiment is a good reminder of the value of the scientific method (theory should be always backed up by experimental proof) and how it’s becoming increasingly difficult to test new theories in physics. It may take decades before more recent theoretical work like string theory and loop quantum gravity can be properly tested and confirmed or dismissed.

After a decades-long quest, The MIT-Caltech collaboration LIGO Laboratories has detected gravitational waves, opening a new era in our exploration of the universe.

For a more extensive explanation of how gravitational waves would sound like, you may want to read this article as well.

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