Sounds of Space: Chandra X-Ray Discovers Black Hole Singing in the Key of B-Flat

By Steve Nagel on Sep 29, 2015 09:02 PM EDT

Could the universe be singing in the key of B flat? The principles of music are already applied to more aspects of life than perhaps they have a right to, but certainly none so vast and all-encompassing as the foundations of the universe itself: the sounds of space. Recounting a decade-old revelation, the New York Times reported on the Chandra X-ray discovery of a black hole that's been singing in the key of B-flat for more than two billion years. The exact register of the black hole's B flat was found to be some 57 octaves below middle C. Part of an ongoing fascination with the sounds of space, the discovery stems from the analogous frequencies we find between waves of light and waves of sound. Often, "sounds of space" is taken to be a misnomer, as the vacuum of space cannot produce audible sounds of any kind. Since, however, the frequencies are easily transferable across these spectrums, scientists are eager to use the Chandra X-ray to gather and package their findings into the grandest cultural-interest story of them all: the music of the universe.

The sheer depth of the note, even if it were produced as a sound wave, would be about 6.2 quadrillion times lower than what the human ear can effectively detect, with an oscillation of about 10 million years. The black hole broadcasts its song from the center of the Perseus galaxy cluster and its oscillations were discovered by Dr. Andrew Fabian by using NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory. The oscillations were described as "ripples of luminosity" and were immediately concluded to be the lowest note in the known universe.

At the time, the newfound “acoustics” of the supermassive black hole presented a learning opportunity for astronomers, proving that the tremendous energy retained in the center of the blackhole were a byproduct of the oscillations. Until they learned about these mechanisms, they had no idea how the gases had maintained their heat for such lengthy periods of time. Of even greater importance, Steve Allen, of the Institute of Astronomy, claimed that these sound waves "may be the key in figuring out how galaxy clusters, the largest structures in the Universe, grow."

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Tagsblack hole, sounds of space, key of b flat, NASA

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