Think of an apple. In your mind, you can see its red color, feel its smooth surface, smell its sweet fragrance, take a bite and listen to its crunch. All the signals you perceive originate from the apple: visual, tactile, olfactory, gustatory and auditive. Combine all these senses, and you really know what an apple is. Now imagine you’re an astronomer. You’re no longer trying to understand a piece of fruit, but something far more mysterious, deep in the universe. You can look at this thing through a telescope, but light alone may not suffice to identify it. You need more information, and while you can’t necessarily smell, taste or touch this distant discovery, you can use other “messengers” – such as neutrinos or gravitational waves – coming from the same celestial source. Ann Finkbeiner explains this so-called “multimessenger astronomy” in a fascinating Scientific American article.
About the Author
Science writer Ann Finkbeiner writes about astronomy and cosmology, and the relation between science and national security. Her recent book, A Grand and Bold Thing, is about the Sloan Digital Sky Survey, an attempt to map the universe.