Hearing Space: Sound Technologies, Waves, and Noises

A fleeting chirp is the latest rendering of the sound caused by a collision of two black holes. A ripple in the universe over a billion years ago. A disturbance in space-time. Captured by an enormous Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO), in an ongoing experiment that took several years and more than 1000 scientists, the detection of such distortion of space-time, compressed and stretched for a fraction of a second, confirmed the existence of gravitational waves. A phenomenon predicted by Albert Einstein 100 years ago in his general theory of relativity. The possibility of observing and listening to gravitational waves opens new ways of researching space and time.

Although the LIGO (see image below) is not a sound technology, the experiment and confirmation of the existence of gravitational waves reminded me of the evolution of sound recording and reproduction technologies. Capturing sound waves was one of the innovations that allowed us to hear more, to amplify tiny noises, to record and to visualize them. From the phonautograph to the flat-disc gramophone to the Magnetophon, these technologies were able to record and reproduce sound waves.

The sound waves recorded by a phonautograph circa 1872, for instance, revealed the characteristics of sound in terms of pitch, tone, and intensity. This device, created in 1859, was the first technology that allowed us to visualize acoustic sound. Likewise, the LIGO has allowed scientists to capture and visualize for the first time gravitational waves.

Comparing both technologies, and waves, is something that perhaps is inappropriate given the scale of each of them. It is also a big stretch because the nature of sound and gravitational waves is very different. However, I found very curious to notice their similarity. It is wonderful to hear a fleeting chirp as a rendering of one of the most violent phenomenons that had happened in our universe. I am very curious to hear what discoveries follow up the confirmation of this phenomenon and the ability of recording gravitational waves.

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