Deciphering Gravitational Waves, with Janna Levin – StarTalk All-Stars

Simulation of merger of two black holes and resulting emission of gravitational radiation (colored fields). Credit: NASA/C. Henze.
  • Free Audio
  • Ad-Free Audio
  • Ad-Free Video

About This Episode

In her first episode as a host of StarTalk All-Stars, astrophysicist and cosmologist Janna Levin reviews the discovery of gravitational waves by LIGO, and she’s brought along the perfect science guest: Rainer “Ray” Weiss. Ray is Professor Emeritus of Physics at MIT and the architect of the original instrument that recently detected gravitational waves. You’ll hear how Ray, together with theoretical physicist Kip Thorne and experimental physicist Ronald Drever, joined forces to form LIGO in 1983 – although the attempt to discover gravitational waves goes back much further. Travel back in time to 1916, when Einstein’s equations upset Newtonian theory and predicted gravitational waves; to 1969, when Joe Weber announced that he had found gravitational waves, which has since been discredited; and to the early 70s, when Ray started building his prototype with help from the US military. But this episode is about more than just history. Janna and Ray, with a little help from first time All-Stars co-host comedian Matt Kirshen, take us inside the physics of gravitational waves: what they are, how they’re formed, and how we were able to use LIGO to “hear” the sound of two 30-solar-mass black holes colliding 1.3 billion years ago, forming a new 57-solar-mass black hole. (And yes, you’ll find out what happened to the missing 3 solar masses.) Janna and Ray also answer fan-submitted Cosmic Queries, ranging from whether we could translate gravitational waves from sound into light, to what would happen to Earth if a collision of two black holes occurred in our solar system.

NOTE: All-Access subscribers can watch or listen to this entire episode commercial-free here: Deciphering Gravitational Waves, with Janna Levin – StarTalk All-Stars.

In This Episode

  • Host

    Janna Levin

    Janna Levin
    All-Stars Host, Astrophysicist, Author, Black Hole Blues and Other Songs from Outer Space
  • Co-Host

    Matt Kirshen

    Matt Kirshen
    Comedian, co-host of Probably Science podcast
  • Guest

    Rainer Weiss

    Rainer Weiss
    co-founder, LIGO; Professor of Physics, Emeritus, MIT

Get the most out of StarTalk!

Ad-Free Audio Downloads
Ad-Free Video Episodes
Stickers & Mugs
Live Streams with Neil
Priority Cosmic Queries
Early-Access Videos
Learn the Meaning of Life
...and much more

Episode Topics