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Cosmic music from dying stars

updated 9:03 AM EDT, Fri September 9, 2011
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Janna Levin: Conventional sound can't exist in vaccuum of space
  • She says cosmic events do come with a kind of music
  • Black holes can squeeze and stretch space time, she says
  • Levin: Your ear could detect the sound, but at great cost to your health

(CNN) -- Many science fiction fans take for granted that there's no sound in the vastness of space. But Janna Levin, a physics and astronomy professor at Barnard College, says dramatic events in space do make a kind of music.

"There's no air in space to compress to ring against your ear," she told CNN in an interview at the TED conference in Long Beach, California, in March. "But it's important to realize the universe isn't a silent film, because space itself wobbles and rumbles like a drum in response to all of these things unfolding in the cosmos."

"If space itself is ringing and squeezing and stretching, your eardrums can resonate in response ... you could hear the sound of very dramatic events in the universe," Levin said.

In a talk at TED, Levin illustrated her point by conjuring up an example of two black holes spinning around each other and coalescing. "Black holes can bang on space time like mallets on a drum," she said.

Watch Janna Levin's TED Talk

She added in the interview, "We can design experiments that can pick up the ringing of space ... you can plug that into the stereo system and pick up the sound."

There are tens of thousands of black holes, which can be formed by massive dying stars, in our galaxy, Levin said.

Listening to their music might prove hazardous. Your ear could hear but, as Levin added, "Now of course, your head would be squeezed and stretched unhelpfully, so you might have trouble understanding what's going on."

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