Taka Tanaka

Columbia University, PhD Candidate

Eavesdropping on Supermassive Black Holes

What is the sound of two black holes dancing? "A silly question," you might say, "for there can be no sound in the emptiness of space!" And you would be right. For thousands of years, we and our ancestors have relied on one sense -- sight -- to study our universe through the lights in the night sky. However, if Einstein's theory of gravity is correct, pairs of compact massive objects will cause ripples in spacetime called gravitational waves. We can't see gravitational waves with our eyes or telescopes, so you might think of them as being somewhat like sound. Scientists are getting closer to being able to "hear" gravitational waves for the first time in human existence. We think the "loudest" sources will be close pairs of black holes. I will talk about them and other possible sources, and just how scientists intend to "listen" to them.