Thursday, May 19, 2011

Listening to black holes

The lowest note ever produced in the universe is B flat !

Ever wondered what a black hole "sounds" like? As NASA's Chandra X-ray telescope recently discovered, is B flat.
Unfortunately there's no way of listening to it because the note is 57 octaves below middle C.
That's a million billion times lower than the limit of human hearing, making it the deepest note that's ever been detected in the universe.

The black hole in question is in the center of the Perseus galaxy cluster, some 250 million light years away from earth. The discovery of sound waves solves a riddle posed by previous X-ray images. Astronomers wondered why there should be so much hot gas in galaxy clusters and not much cool gas. They thought the hot gas should cool, and in the process draw in more gas to form trillions of stars. But there's been little evidence for this idea so far.

The new observation of sound waves in the cluster sheds light on the mystery. Sound waves could carry a huge amount of energy, the equivalent of 100 million supernovae. This dissipates into the gas as the waves travel outwards, keeping the gas hot. Evidence for this comes from ripples in the gas, hundred of thousandths of light years away from the central black hole. If the scientists are right, it means that the note has remained the same for 2.5 billion years, which is one heck of a bass line.

Sources: Focus magazine, Chandra Observatory, various.

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