Saturday, 25 June 2011

A history of the universe in sound


Our Particle Decelerator correspondent gives a TED talk on the story of the history of the universe by listening. It's punctuated by three anecdotes which show how accidental encounters with strange noises, taught us some of the most important things we know about space ...

Whilst the talk refers to "sounds from space", it is important to emphasise that stars and planets are not directly audible. Sound waves can not propagate in the vacuum of space. However, it is possible for radio waves emitted from celestial bodies to be heard by using radio technology.

The talk recalls the early history of the science of radio astronomy. Before astronomy was computerised, radio astronomers would monitor radio telescopes by listening. In our solar system, the Sun is the strongest source of radio waves, so it's the most powerful transmitter in our radio sky. Jupiter also sends us strong, and beautifully varied, radio signals. And radio astronomers also detect radio waves from far-flung celestial bodies in the distant universe, and simple audification techniques allow us to hear these signals.


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