This Is the Sound of Two Black Holes Colliding

Einstein knew what he was talking about.

<a href="http://www.shutterstock.com/pic-313063250/stock-photo-black-hole-over-star-field-in-outer-space.html?src=Ia3mrNFJQBywrP9OmZJ69g-1-1">vchal</a>/Shutterstock


When black holes collide, they release a power greater than all the stars shining in the universe. They also make a really big sound. In September 2015, scientists detected the merger of two black holes, an event that took place more than a billion light years away. It produced a whooshing sound picked up by machines designed to detect the activity. You can hear that sound—the hum of gravitational waves produced by the collision—on this week’s episode of the Inquiring Minds podcast.

On Inquiring Minds, Kishore Hari talks with Janna Levin, a professor of physics and astronomy at Barnard College and author of a book on this unlikely discovery of the black hole collision heard round the world.

The discovery was a project decades—and more than $1 billion—in the making. And it was truly groundbreaking. “I sometimes liken it to the first time Galileo pointed the telescope at the sky,” Levin said.

When Albert Einstein came up with his theory of relativity, he posited that gravitational waves ripple across space-time when hit with the force of moving objects such as black holes. The sound picked up by the machines proved Einstein was right.

As Levin pointed out, the remarkable discovery makes other revelations seem possible. When Galileo first set his eyes on the sky, she said, he was looking at Saturn, the moon, and the sun; he could never have predicted the discovery of remote galaxies or objects such as quasars. Centuries later, when a team of physicists went looking for neutron stars, they discovered colliding black holes.

“Who knows what else is out there?” Levin said.

Inquiring Minds is a podcast hosted by neuroscientist and musician Indre Viskontas and Kishore Hari, the director of the Bay Area Science Festival. To catch future shows right when they are released, subscribe to Inquiring Minds via iTunes or RSS. You can follow the show on Twitter at @inquiringshow and like us on Facebook.

More MotherJones reporting on Climate Desk

OUR NEW CORRUPTION PROJECT

The more we thought about how MoJo's journalism can have the most impact heading into the 2020 election, the more we realized that so many of today's stories come down to corruption: democracy and the rule of law being undermined by the wealthy and powerful for their own gain.

So we're launching a new Mother Jones Corruption Project to do deep, time-intensive reporting on systemic corruption. We aim to hire, build a team, and give them the time and space needed to understand how we got here and how we might get out. We'll publish what we find as a major series in the summer of 2020, including a special issue of our magazine, a dedicated online portal, and video and podcast series so it doesn't get lost in the daily deluge of breaking news.

It's unlike anything we've done before and we've got seed funding to get started, but we're asking readers to help crowdfund this new beat with an additional $500,000 so we can go even bigger. You can read why we're taking this approach and what we want to accomplish in "Corruption Isn't Just Another Scandal. It's the Rot Beneath All of Them," and if you like how it sounds, please help fund it with a tax-deductible donation today.

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our newsletters

Subscribe and we'll send Mother Jones straight to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate