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Neue Modellrechnung zur Entwicklung des Universums
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/Illustris Collaboration

What Did the Big Bang Sound Like?

December 28, 2020

In 2015, scientists proved the existence of gravitational waves. These waves travel billions of light-years through space, eventually reaching Earth and bringing us insights that were previously unattainable.


In 2017, American researchers won the Nobel Prize for their discovery of gravitational waves. But not many know that it was a scientist from the northern German town of Salzwedel who first made the discovery possible. His name: Heinz Billing. You might call him the pioneer of research into gravitational waves. Thanks to his scientific work, we may soon have a much better understanding of our great unknown "universe."

USA Hanford LIGO-Detektor
Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory in Hanford, USAImage: picture-alliance/dpa/Ligo

The US Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO), in which gravitational waves were detected for the first time, has its origins in a prototype made by Billing. The current LIGO is simply many times larger. Two laser signals are shot into tubes about four kilometers long, then mirrored. As they return, they overlap. When a gravitational wave reaches the earth, the light from the laser beams gets out of sync. And that can be measured - as sound! Events that take place billions of light-years away in the furthest reaches of space, which no telescope or probe could ever detect, suddenly become audible.

The infinite nature of the universe is a source of fascination to the current generation of scientists, just as it was to Billing and his colleagues. What awaits us beyond the starry sky, beyond the things we can comprehend with our eyes? Just as Heinz Billing's technology allowed us to hear gravitational waves for the first time, German physicist Karsten Danzmann hopes for another leap forward during his lifetime. Danzmann’s latest project, a detector in space, may enable us to receive gravitational waves from the Big Bang, making the birth of the universe audible. 

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Deutschland Karsten Danzmann
German physicist Karsten DanzmannImage: picture-alliance/dpaJ. Stratenschulte

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