LIGO’s Chirp Reminds Of The Value Of Sound Data

The recent confirmation of the existence of gravitational waves by the LIGO (Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory) involved a very notable chirp (repeated six times in the video, with the middle two ‘chirps’ shifted to a higher frequency).

The sounds are made by converting the amplitude and frequency information of the gravitational waves into sound waves.  While it can seem counterintuitive to hear phenomena that traveled through the vacuum of space, the use of an audio signal is not new to astronomy, or to this blog.  Converting the astronomical data into sounds can be helpful in determining the kinds of events like the collision of two black holes that produced the chirp.

The success of this kind of observation relies on our ears being better than our eyes in sifting through a massive amount of data (or noise) and noting specific differences.  But this article from The Economist suggests that we haven’t really explored how well we can mine data from an audio perspective.

It describes two different kinds of conversion.  One, which I think the LIGO data fits best, is audification, where one measure is the focus.  Parameter mapping is the other kind, which involves multiple measurements converted into sounds.  But arranging this orchestra of measurements is still an emerging discipline.  Much like with music, the ears will do better with certain scientific composition than with others.

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