Music in the cosmos
My high school did not offer a class in cosmology. It’s a good thing it didn’t. I wouldn’t have survived. I barely passed math, struggled in physics, and to this day do not understand what a mole in chemistry is. The only mole I know is the one that burrows under the grass in my backyard. I cannot see it, do not like it, and do not understand it, which, come to think of it, is exactly how I relate to that unit of measurement in chemistry. Okay, so there is more than one mole in my yard. Let’s not go there.
If science is not my first gift, I nonetheless stand in awe of its majesties. Albert Einstein’s quip – “Science without religion is lame; religion without science is blind” – works well for me. As far as I am concerned, any scientist worth listening to is one whose jaw drops at new discoveries and who loves the boundlessness of big questions.
The recent news out of research centers in California and Louisiana about a chirp in the cosmos is absolutely fascinating. Are you up on this? While some critics point to the $1 billion dollars spent over 40 years of research, let’s be reverent enough to relish the discovery, at least for the moment. Not only does the hearing of sound confirm an important piece of Einstein’s Theory of General Relativity from a century ago; it also allows us to think of astronomy as having ears. There is music in the cosmos, and the loveliness of that music happens to be centered on Middle C.
Here’s one way to appreciate the research project. We all know how a sweater shrinks in the dryer, how jello jiggles on a plate, and how pants stretch when we gain weight. Well, the cosmos also has dynamic properties that shrink, jiggle, and stretch. Einstein theorized that massive objects colliding a long time ago would release energy equivalent to a billion, trillion suns. That’s more energy than the chocolate bar in my desk drawer, by the way. A lot more.
The ripple of this energy would create gravitational waves rippling through time. Thanks to some physicists who managed to convert light traveling from one billion light years away into a sound wave, the chirp has been heard. Listen here: http://www.popsci.com/listen-to-sound-gravitational-waves.
Few will describe this chirp as a symphony – yet. But thanks to the perseverance of the physicists involved in this project, and related sounds being culled these years from other activity in the cosmos, some great music is afoot. There is aesthetic beauty in the universe that may be more than any of us can appreciate. But it’s present and growing.
We have focused so long on what we can see in the heavens by way of light – visible, ultraviolet, and infrared. Now it seems we need ears to behold the fullness of God’s glory, which turns out to be a thoroughly biblical idea in the first place.
Copyright © 2016 Peter W. Marty. All rights reserved. Any use of this material must be attributed to Peter W. Marty. To reproduce this material in published format, please contact Peter.