Listening to the Big Bang—in high fidelity

Apr 08, 2013 by Vince Stricherz
The Planck satellite mission mapped light temperature differences on the oldest surface known — the background sky left billions of years ago when our universe first became transparent to light. Those differences helped to recreate the sound of the Big Bang. Credit: European Space Agency/Planck Collaboration

A decade ago, spurred by a question for a fifth-grade science project, University of Washington physicist John Cramer devised an audio recreation of the Big Bang that started our universe nearly 14 billion years ago.

Now, armed with more sophisticated data from a observing the cosmic microwave background – a faint glow in the that acts as sort of a fossilized fingerprint of the Big Bang – Cramer has produced new recordings that fill in higher frequencies to create a fuller and richer sound. (The sound files run from 20 seconds to a little longer than 8 minutes.)

The effect is similar to what seismologists describe as a magnitude 9 earthquake causing the entire planet to actually ring. In this case, however, the ringing covered the entire universe – before it grew to such gargantuan proportions.

"Space-time itself is ringing when the universe is sufficiently small," Cramer said.

In 2001, Cramer wrote a science-based column for Analog Science Fiction & Fact magazine describing the likely sound of the Big Bang based on cosmic microwave background radiation observations taken from balloon experiments and satellites.

A couple of years later that article prompted a question from a mother in Pennsylvania whose 11-year-old son was working on a project about the Big Bang: Is the sound of the Big Bang actually recorded anywhere?

Cramer answered that it wasn't – but then began thinking that it could be. He used data from the cosmic microwave background on temperature fluctuations in the very early universe. The data on those wavelength changes were fed into a computer program called Mathematica, which converted them to sound. A 100-second recording represents the sound from about 380,000 years after the Big Bang until until about 760,000 years after the Big Bang.

"The original sound waves were not temperature variations, though, but were real sound waves propagating around the universe," he said.

Cramer noted, however, that the 2003 data lacked high-frequency structure. More complete data were recently gathered by an international collaboration using the European Space Agency's Planck satellite mission, which has detectors so sensitive that they can distinguish temperature variations of a few millionths of a degree in the . That data were released in late March and led to the new recordings.

As the universe cooled and expanded, it stretched the wavelengths to create "more of a bass instrument," Cramer said. The sound gets lower as the wavelengths are stretched farther, and at first it gets louder but then gradually fades. The sound was, in fact, so "bass" that he had to boost the frequency 100 septillion times (that's a 100 followed by 24 more zeroes) just to get the recordings into a range where they can be heard by humans.

Cramer is a UW physics professor who has been part of a large collaboration studying what the universe might have been like moments after the Big Bang by causing collisions between heavy ions such as gold in the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider at Brookhaven National Laboratory in New York.

Creating a profile for the was something to do on the side, Cramer said.

"It was an interesting thing to do that I wanted to share. It's another way to look at the work these people are doing," he said.

Explore further: The origins of local planetary orbits

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User comments : 10

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Milou
3 / 5 (2) Apr 08, 2013
I never heard the "Bang" (boom, or whatever)? To image, it all started with high frequency. Lucky it slowed down so we could catch up to it. Cool...
cantdrive85
1 / 5 (8) Apr 08, 2013
"The extraordinary thing is that scientists accept the Big Bang and in the same breath deride the Creationists." Wallace Thornhill
chardo137
5 / 5 (4) Apr 08, 2013
Not so "extraordinary." There is a lot of evidence for the "Big Bang."
cantdrive85
1 / 5 (9) Apr 08, 2013
There are a lot of assumptions that the evidence supports the BB. Assumptions, no more, no less. The idea that the theory can explain what happened 14 billion years ago is laughable considering how little the theory can predict in the here and now.

"The universe is an unending transformation in flux whose previous states we are not privileged to know." David Bohm
gwrede
1 / 5 (1) Apr 08, 2013
Without properly explaining exactly how they made the sound and what it actually represents, it has no value to anybody. As such, it now stands as just another curiosity for jocks. For us others, not even that.

"Hey check out this soud!"
"Wow, like a dying geek!"
"Hahaha!"

And then they move on, never bothering to even skim the explanation.

rwinners
1 / 5 (2) Apr 08, 2013
Oh come on.
Surely there is a LOT of artistic interpretation going on here.
I mean, wavelengths of light transferred to wavelengths of sound. What is that ratio???? I'll bet the original sounded just like ...... an explosion!
It is always interesting to see examples how we insignificant pests living on the face of an insignificant planet tucked away in an no-one-knows-where portion of a universe can be so bold.
Fleetfoot
4.3 / 5 (6) Apr 09, 2013
Oh come on.
Surely there is a LOT of artistic interpretation going on here.
I mean, wavelengths of light transferred to wavelengths of sound. What is that ratio????


From the article: "'The original sound waves were not temperature variations, though, but were real sound waves propagating around the universe,' he said."

He has used the observed pattern to work out the sound waves that were propagating through the dense plasma.

I'll bet the original sounded just like ...... an explosion!


The big bang wasn't an explosion so I doubt that. It should be more like putting a microphone into a pond during a shower.
jsdarkdestruction
5 / 5 (3) Apr 09, 2013
Oh come on.
Surely there is a LOT of artistic interpretation going on here.
I mean, wavelengths of light transferred to wavelengths of sound. What is that ratio????


From the article: "'The original sound waves were not temperature variations, though, but were real sound waves propagating around the universe,' he said."

He has used the observed pattern to work out the sound waves that were propagating through the dense plasma.

I'll bet the original sounded just like ...... an explosion!


The big bang wasn't an explosion so I doubt that. It should be more like putting a microphone into a pond during a shower.

its amazing what you can actually learn by reading the article before posting. thank you for setting him straight.
Q-Star
3 / 5 (6) Apr 09, 2013
@ jsdarkdestruction

@ Fleetfoot

@ anyone else interested in the primeval acoustics associated with the CMB,,,

This fellow is one of the most accessible presenters of the latest work. He's a natural born educator, AND a first rate researcher.

Mark Whittle: http://www.astro..../~dmw8f/
beleg
1 / 5 (1) Apr 13, 2013
We are privileged to assign sound any meaning to extend our understanding while we are here.

"Both Plato and Isocrates affirm that, above all else, Pythagoras was famous for leaving behind him a way of life."

So although "No texts by Pythagoras are known to have survived"...
the belief attributing Musica Universalis to him persists.

http://en.wikiped...thagoras

His way of life reverberates the science in all of us.