Physicist Janna Levin At TED 2011 On The Sound Of Black Holes


From "Janna Levin is a professor of physics and astronomy at Barnard, where she studies the early universe, chaos, and black holes. She's the author of 'How the Universe Got Its Spots' and the novel 'A Madman Dreams of Turing Machines.'"

On the sounds of space: I want to ask you all to consider for a second the simple fact that most of what we know about the universe comes to us from light.

The universe is not a silent movie. The universe isn't silent. I'd like to convince you that the universe has a soundtrack and that soundtrack is played on itself because space can wobble like a drum. It can ring out a recording of some of the most dramatic events as they unfold.

While [we've] never heard sounds from space, we really should in next few years start to turn up the volume on what's going on out there.

On the view from inside a black hole: Even though black holes are dark from the outside, they're not dark inside because all of the light from the galaxy can fall in behind us. [Going inside a black hole] would be like a near-death experience where you see the light at the end of the tunnel, but it's a total death experience and there's no way of telling anyone about the light at the end of tunnel.

On the sound of black holes: Black holes can bang on mallets on a drum, and they have a very characteristic song.

Black holes can be heard if not seen.

These black holes will ring in a frequency that your ears can hear. You head would be squeezed and stretched [so you might have difficulty hearing them.]

On what black holes might sound like: Imagine a lighter black hole falling into a heavy black hole...We can predict what that sound will be...We know that as it [the smaller black hole] falls in [to another black hole] it gets faster and louder and eventually we will hear the little guy fall into the bigger guy. [Levin plays a recording that vaguely resembles a heart beat, which then speeds up to what sounds like a basketball dribbling on a court. Levin notes it "chirps up at the end"].

On the sounds of the Big Bang: Imagine you're inside the Big Bang...14 billion years pass and the song is still singing around us...Imagine a billion years ago two black holes colliding, that song has been ringing through space all that time...[Eventually] we'll catch it, the first song from space. If it was the Big Bang we'd pick up sound like this [Levin plays something that sounds like static]. It's literally the definition of...white noise, chaotic ringing. It's around us everywhere, if it hasn't been wiped out.

On a multiverse: We have to wonder if there is a multiverse. Are there other creatures in a multiverse wondering about us and wondering about their own origins?

Note: Live blog is not an official transcript, but a compilation of quotes (indicated where appropriate) and paraphrased statements. Find more updates from TED here.

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