FUN: The Sounds of Cosmic Birth

Science  18 Jun 2004:
Vol. 304, Issue 5678, pp. 1725a
DOI: 10.1126/science.304.5678.1725a

What did the big bang sound like? Astronomer Mark Whittle of the University of Virginia, Charlottesville, wanted to know, so he devised a way to convert the chaos of the early universe into sounds. The exercise draws from the physics of the cosmic microwave background: the afterglow from the big bang that pervades the sky. Subtle ripples in this glow are pressure waves—akin to sound waves—that reverberate through space. Whittle calculated the mixture of frequencies as the universe grew and raised the pitch about 50 octaves into our range of hearing. The result, presented earlier this month at the American Astronomical Society meeting in Denver, Colorado, is “a descending scream, building into a deep rasping roar, and ending in a deafening hiss,” he explains. Listen to a dozen audio clips at Whittle's home page.∼dmw8f

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