What Gravitational Waves Sound Like: New Audio of Black Holes Colliding Confirms Predictions Einstein Made 100 Years Ago

On Thurs­day, sci­en­tists announced that they had record­ed the sound of two black holes col­lid­ing a bil­lion light years away, pro­vid­ing the first real proof that grav­i­ta­tion­al waves actu­al­ly exist–something Albert Ein­stein pre­dict­ed 100 years ago in his famous paper on gen­er­al rel­a­tiv­i­ty. If you would like an intro­duc­tion to the whole con­cept of grav­i­ta­tion­al waves, I’d rec­om­mend watch­ing the ani­ma­tion below, cre­at­ed by PhD Comics–the same folks who cre­at­ed a handy ani­ma­tion explain­ing the Hig­gs Boson when it was con­firmed back in 2012.

But, for the moment, I’d real­ly like you to lis­ten to the “Grav­i­ta­tion­al Wave Chirp,” the audio record­ing unveiled by sci­en­tists this week. (Hear it up top.) As The New York Times describes it, the chirp ris­es to “the note of mid­dle C before abrupt­ly stop­ping,” And it’s like­ly to “take its place among the great sound bites of sci­ence,” rank­ing up there with Alexan­der Gra­ham Bell’s “Mr. Wat­son — come here” and Sputnik’s first beeps from orbit.” Decades from now, you can tell your grand­kids you heard it here first.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

The Hig­gs Boson, AKA the God Par­ti­cle, Explained with Ani­ma­tion

Free Online Physics Cours­es, part of our larg­er col­lec­tion, 1,700 Free Online Cours­es from Top Uni­ver­si­ties

Grav­i­ty Visu­al­ized by High School Teacher in an Amaz­ing­ly Ele­gant & Sim­ple Way

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  • Toad says:

    Of course, grav­i­ta­tion­al waves don’t make a sound. Sound is air waves, not waves of the fab­ric of exis­tence flex­ing.

    Fre­quen­cies from one type of wave can be mapped over onto anoth­er type of wave, though, which has been done here. Why map it onto sound rather than light? Why not make an image?

    That’s a good ques­tion that you might be able to sense an answer to intu­itive­ly, and might want to think about for sec­ond, but the answer can be found at this better(I’m sor­ry to say) announce­ment of the find­ing: http://motherboard.vice.com/read/this-is-what-a-gravitational-wave-sounds-like

    That answer is: “Unlike light waves, which prop­a­gate wave­lengths that are small­er than the object that emits them, grav­i­ta­tion­al rip­ples pro­duce wave­lengths larg­er than the objects that pro­duce them. In that way, they are more anal­o­gous to acoustic ener­gy than elec­tro­mag­net­ic ener­gy, so record­ing them is usu­al­ly con­sid­ered akin to record­ing rather than light.”

    When sci­en­tists are mak­ing an anal­o­gy, even a close anal­o­gy like this “sound” record­ing of waves that aren’t sound, it’s impor­tant to keep track of the anal­o­gy, instead of tak­ing it lit­er­al­ly. The whole point here is to think about this, not to shrug off think­ing and just lis­ten to the pret­ty sound.

  • Ramon Sender says:

    Want to hear just the sound of the wave itself?

  • William says:

    Well, I hap­pen to like the pret­ty sound, even though it’s not real. And I don’t shrug off think­ing about what it rep­re­sents.

    For us lay­men, who don’t know the intri­ca­cies of the physics involved, but are still able to be awed by our Uni­verse (both the out­ward and the inward), demon­stra­tions like this help me grasp (what lit­tle I can, that is ) the awe­some & incred­i­ble work­ings of the immen­si­ty of our real­i­ty.

  • William says:

    Wow! I put it on repeat mode in my media player–it’s so cool!

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