Most people never listen, #chirpforLIGO


“I like to listen.

I have learned a great deal from listening carefully.

Most people never listen.”

Ernest Hemingway urged us to listen, and to do so carefully @LIGO

Taking his advice, we can now hear something that is impossible for us to see. Here is the sound of black holes colliding, the sound of Einstein’s General Relativity passing another test, the sound of new science.

That little blip is a Nobel prize and the validation of many peoples’ careers. It’s a validation of the scientific method. It’s a validation of the public funding of science.

Why? Every time we speak we produce sounds waves. By listening to these sounds waves – changes in their volume, rhythm, pitch – we can tell who is talking, what they are saying, and, often, what they really mean. Think of sarcasm, irony, the ‘question uptick’-  none of these can be inferred from words alone. Now transfer this idea of listening to astrophysics, and specifically Einstein’s theory of general relativity. It predicted many weird things that have all turned out to be true. Among these predictions, one stood out as unconfirmed. His theory predicted that if a large enough (i.e., lots of mass) event occurred quick enough, the effect would be a ripple in space-time.  A gravitational wave would be produced that would shake space-time, analogous to the ripples in a pond caused by a falling pebble. But these ripples in space-time would be tiny. Even the largest events we could conceive of –  two black holes colliding – would only alter space-time by 1 part in 10,000,000,000,000,000,000. If we could build a listening device that would be sound-proofed from all other distractions, then we should hear this tiny ripple.


By studying the chirp of the sound, we study the Black Holes. By listening carefully, we can hear that which can never see. That is the achievement just completed by LIGO.  By listening, really carefully, Einstein’s theory has passed another test, and we’ve now opened a new window into the Universe.

Keep on listening.