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Sunday, July 21, 2024

Column: Universe: The Musical

Human beings, vegetables or cosmic dust — we all dance to a mysterious tune, intoned in the distance by an invisible piper. — Albert Einstein

Einstein had an ability, rare among physicists, to convey the hardcore science he was so passionate about in a poetic way that struck a chord with anyone who listened. Similarly, Mozart had an ability, also rare among composers, to create a musical work of mathematical perfection that wooed physicists and poets alike. Perhaps there is a relationship between the numbers and the notes. We could call the relationship the wave structure of matter, resonant frequencies or Pythagorean scales, and we would be technically correct. But we can also do what Einstein and Mozart did — look past the divergence of music and math, and call the relationship what it is: a universal, cosmic harmony.
If the modern ideas of string theory are to be believed, then anything and everything is comprised of vibrating parts. Atoms, quarks, photons, alternate dimensions, piano strings and the air from a flute all take their individual properties from how they vibrate. Ancient civilizations such as the Chinese, Greeks and Indians (not American) called this philosophy “Nada Brahma,” or “The World as Sound.”
String theorists can take a leaf from the Nada Brahma book. If we look at the universe like a giant piano, everything begins to resemble notes on a scale. A piano’s frequencies range from 27.5 hertz (vibrations per second) to 4,224 hertz. If we analyze the background vibrations of cosmic dust left over from the Big Bang, they vibrate extraordinarily close to F sharp. The fundamental element in the universe, hydrogen, has an infrared frequency of 1,420 hertz, an F. And the magnetic resonance of cesium, the element we use to calibrate the world’s atomic clocks, vibrates at 9,193 hertz, a C sharp several octaves above the far right of a piano.
About 10 years ago, astronomers at NASA actually disproved the conjecture that no one can hear you scream in space. You just have to yell loud enough. The astronomers actually recorded images of sound waves propagating through the hot gas cloud surrounding one of the largest known black holes in the universe, located in the Perseus Cluster. The vibrations’ frequency is a C, albeit 57 octaves below middle C.

The daily Earth cycle is a G, and the yearly Earth cycle is C sharp. The Moon cycle is a G sharp at 421 hertz, the key just below A, which Mozart tuned to 421.6 hertz.

As we get closer to Earth, we continue to see these correlations. The electromagnetic hum of our ionosphere, called the Schumann resonance, is a B. The American power supply, 60 hertz alternating current, is somewhere between B and B flat, and the European power supply, 50 hertz direct current, is a G sharp.

These vibrations continue down to microscopic scales (pun intended) as well. If we look at the infrared frequencies of the components of DNA — adenine, guanine, cytosine, and thymine — we get one of the most pleasant sounds to the human ear, D sharp.

We truly do live in a musical universe.

HUDSON LOFCHIE can be reached at science@theaggie.org.


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