When Black Holes, Physics, and Music Collide

The first direct detection of gravitational waves is a breakthrough in physics that will probably win a Nobel Prize, and the LIGO detectors are an astonishing feat of engineering.

As Dr. Stuver at Living Ligo reminds us,

One convenient feature of LIGO is that it is most sensitive in the frequencies that the human ear could hear if gravitational waves made sound – but they don’tI can’t stress this enough: gravitational waves do NOT make sounds since a sound waves are fundamentally different from gravitational waves.  But, if we take the data we gather from LIGO of a gravitational wave, we can put that signal through speakers and convert them into sound.  In this way, LIGO is very much like a gravitational-wave radio

Specifically, from the recently published paper (Phys. Rev. Lett. 116:061102), “Over 0.2 s, the signal increases in frequency and amplitude in about 8 cycles from 35 to 150 Hz, where the amplitude reaches a maximum.” The signal then increased in frequency to 250 Hz as it faded away.

The LIGO them has already converted this “chirp” into sound waves:

Looking at these frequencies, I quickly realized that one could also reproduce them on a musical instrument, like a tuba, an upright bass, or a contrabass trombone.  So, if you want to play the sound of two black holes colliding, look no further!

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