Black Hole Blues and Other Songs from Outer Space

In early February, near the centenary of Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity, a team of scientists announced the discovery of the century: the detection of waves in the shape of spacetime – gravitational waves. Over 1.3 billion years ago, two black holes collided, ringing spacetime like a drum, an event more powerful than any since the origin of the universe. An hour before the gravitational wave hit the Earth, two 4-kilometer long observatories on different coasts – part of the LIGO (Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory) – were locked in observing mode. In the middle of the night, the scientists on the remote site in Washington abandoned the long day’s efforts and headed home, while the scientists in Louisiana put down their tools in frustration to leave the instrument undisturbed. At 4:50 am on September 14th, the gravitational wave came from the Southern sky and skimmed past Louisiana, ringing that machine first, before cruising at the speed of light to hit the observatory in Washington State, 10 milliseconds later.

In her new book, Black Hole Blues and Other Songs from Outer Space (Knopf, March 2016), astrophysicist Janna Levin recounts the obsessions, aspirations, and trials of the scientists who embarked on the arduous, fifty-year endeavor to capture gravitational waves. For a special evening at Pioneer Works, Levin will join Rainer Weiss, MIT professor emeritus and a primary LIGO architect, in a conversation about black holes, gravitational waves and the soundtrack of our universe. The discussion will be moderated by Emmy and Peabody Award-winning journalist John Hockenberry.


Rainer Weiss, professor emeritus, MIT
John Hockenberry, journalist, Emmy and Peabody Award winner
Janna Levin, professor of physics and astronomy, Barnard/Columbia; Director of Sciences, Pioneer Works


After the talk musicians Greg FoxTrevor Dunn and Grey McMurray will explore the soundtrack of our universe with a set of interstellar tunes based on the sounds of space. DJ Black Helmet will open and close our night with twin sets of rare spaced out grooves.