Music and the cosmos

Discover the largest sound wave in the universe, and what sound waves have in common with atoms and light. Inspiring Australia’s second Sounds like Science event at City Recital Hall on Wednesday 11 April will be an exciting lunchtime talk by astrophysicist Professor Tamara Davis, accompanied by thrilling music from Gustav Holst’s The Planets.

When Kepler discovered that the planets orbit in fixed ratios with mathematical symmetry, he discovered something profound about the world. When he ascribed musical notes to the periods of the planets, he was laying the groundwork for modern physics, where waves and periodic patterns are revealed in everything from the behaviour of atoms to the universe near the big bang.

Professor Davis will show how the same wave patterns that underly sound are found throughout the cosmos, on massive scales.

“Modern telescopes are so powerful that we can now see the universe as it was a mere 380,000 years after the big bang,” she said. “Back then the universe was so hot and dense that sound waves were everywhere. But as time went on the universe expanded and became more dilute, until sound could no longer propagate.”

“At that point the last compressions and rarefactions of the last universe-sized sound waves were frozen in, and the dense parts became the places that galaxies would eventually form”

“We’ve now observed this astonishing fact — the pattern of galaxies is not random, but rather we can detect a cosmic-sized sound wave in the pattern of galaxies. This is helping modern astronomers to better understand gravity, dark energy, dark matter, and the potential fate of the universe.”

The link between music and the cosmos runs deep. The concept of the harmony of the spheres has roots in Pythagorean times, when the harmonies of sound were related to the vibrations on a string.

Wave-like patterns that embody sound also govern the motion of the planets, appear in the patterns of galaxies, and even determine the properties of particles. This may seem mystical, but it isn’t.

“When it comes to physics the rules are simple, and there are a limited number of moves nature can make,” said Professor Davis.

“Like a chess player with restricted pieces, the universe repeatedly applies the same tools to counter diverse situations.”

Professor Tamara Davis is an astrophysicist searching for the elusive “dark energy” that’s accelerating the universe. She’s measured time-dilation in distant supernovae, helped make one of the largest maps of the distribution of galaxies in the universe, seen evidence for sound waves from the big bang, and seriously considers whether we can use dark energy to make hoverboards.

Don’t miss this unique chance to discover the deep connection between music and the universe around us.

When: 12.30 – 1.30 pm, Wednesday 11 April 2018
Where: City Recital Hall, Angel Place Sydney
Cost: Free with booking. Register to attend

Image courtesy of Teagan Went. This Sounds Like Science is produced by Inspiring Australia (NSW) in partnership with City Recial Hall.