Black Hole Blues and Other Songs from Outer Space

Author(s): Janna Levin

Popular Science

"This is empirical poetry. A fascinating tale of human curiosity beautifully told, and with black holes and lasers too." (Robin Ince). Travel around the world 100 billion times. A strong gravitational wave will briefly change that distance by less than the thickness of a human hair. We have perhaps less than a few tenths of a second to perform this measurement. And we don't know if this infinitesimal event will come next month, next year or perhaps in thirty years. In 1916, Einstein predicted the existence of gravitational waves: miniscule ripples in the very fabric of space-time generated by unfathomably powerful events. If such vibrations could somehow be recorded, we could observe our universe for the first time through sound: the hissing of the Big Bang, the whale-like tunes of collapsing stars, the low tones of merging galaxies, the drumbeat of two black holes collapsing into one. For decades, astrophysicists have searched for a way of doing so...In 2016, a team of hundreds of scientists at work on a billion-dollar experiment made history when they announced the first ever detection of a gravitational wave, confirming Einstein's prediction.
This is their story, and the story of the most sensitive scientific instrument ever made: Ligo. Based on complete access to Ligo and the scientists who created it, Black Hole Blues provides a first-hand account of this astonishing achievement: a compelling, intimate portrait of cutting-edge science at its most awe-inspiring and ambitious.


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"Gripping ... very, very well written ... I reached the beautiful ending of this book with a little sob of gratitude ... heartbreaking ... brilliant" -- Bryan Appleyard Sunday Times "It is hard to imagine that a better narrative will ever be written about the behind-the-scenes heartbreak and hardship that goes with scientific discovery. Black Hole Blues is a spectacular feat - a near-perfect balance of science, storytelling and insight ... It is as inevitable as gravity that this book will win a swath of awards" -- Michael Brooks New Statesman "Astonishing ... superb ... Ms Levin is able to tell the tale so soon, and so well, because she has had privileged access to the experiment. She has also known the experimenters for several years ... Ms Levin is herself a scientist, which explains her access, but more than that she is a writer ... readers feel as if they are sitting in on her interviews or watching over her shoulder as she describes two black holes colliding ... A splendid book that I recommend to anyone with an interest in how science works and in the power of human imagination and ability" -- John Gribbin Wall Street Journal "A superb storyteller. This is the most vivid account I can remember of science policy in action ... I'll be surprised if anyone brings out a more readable book on gravitational waves in the near future" -- Clive Cookson Financial Times "A remarkable achievement that potentially opens up a whole new chapter in our understanding of the cosmos and, with perfect timing, Janna Levin's elegant and lucid book is here to tell us how it was done ... the human drama is compelling ... The main protagonists ... comprise as fascinating a triumvirate as you will find anywhere in scientific literature. Levin, a distinguished astrophysicist in her own right, writes eloquently, sometimes even poetically, about the search for what she calls gravity's music" -- Simon Griffith Mail on Sunday

Janna Levin is a Professor of Physics and Astronomy at Barnard College of Columbia University and Director of Sciences at Pioneer Works, a centre for art and innovation in Brooklyn. She has contributed to the understanding of black holes, the cosmology of extra dimensions and gravitational waves. She was the first scientist-in-residence at the Ruskin School of Fine Art and Drawing at Oxford University with an award from NESTA, and was recently named a Guggenheim fellow. Her previous books are How the Universe Got Its Spots and a novel, A Madman Dreams of Turing Machines, which won the PEN/Bingham prize. She has also appeared at TED and contributes to numerous radio and television programmes.

General Fields

  • : 9780099569589
  • : Vintage Publishing
  • : Vintage
  • : March 2017
  • : 198mm X 129mm
  • : United Kingdom
  • : April 2017
  • : books

Special Fields

  • : Janna Levin
  • : Paperback
  • : 417
  • : en
  • : 522.68
  • : 240