Gravitational Wave Detector Will Be a 'Game-Changer'

2035 LISA mission will hunt for ripples in space-time
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Feb 1, 2024 10:45 AM CST
'Game-Changer' Mission to Hunt for Ripples in Space-Time
An infographic showing how the LISA mission will measure gravitational waves using laser beams and free-floating cubes.   (ESA / ATG Medialab, CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO)

As part of his theory of general relativity, Albert Einstein predicated a body accelerating in space would create radiating ripples in space-time. He was, of course, correct. But he was wrong about one thing. Einstein believed gravitational waves, even those caused by the collision of massive objects, would be too faint for humans to detect. More than a century later, the European Space Agency plans to launch the first space-based gravitational wave detector to record colliding black holes, supernova explosions, even changes in the rate of the universe's expansion, per the journal Nature. Three identical spacecraft separated by 1.6 million miles will trail Earth in orbit in a triangular formation, exchanging laser beams capable of detecting gravitational waves that pass by at the speed of light, per

The Laser Interferometer Space Antenna (LISA) mission, to launch in 2035, won't mark the first detection of gravitational waves from Earth. Since 2015, astronomers have detected ripples in space-time, including from the merging of black holes, using the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory. LISA will allow for detection of waves at much greater distances. "Thanks to the huge distance traveled by the laser signals on LISA, and the superb stability of its instrumentation, we will probe gravitational waves of lower frequencies than is possible on Earth, uncovering events of a different scale, all the way back to the dawn of time," says lead project scientist Nora Luetzgendorf. As Smithsonian notes, gravitational waves from the Big Bang might be "still rippling through the universe."

The spacecraft will detect gravitational waves with wavelengths between 186,400 miles and 1.86 billion miles. These will register in the slight movement of a floating cube of gold and platinum, producing data scientists can use to figure out the direction of the waves. "This is almost a sci-fi sort of instrument," project scientist Valeriya Korol tells Nature. "If we imagine that, so far, with our astrophysics missions, we have been watching the cosmos like a silent movie, capturing the ripples of spacetime with LISA will be a real game-changer, like when sound was added to motion pictures," adds project scientist Oliver Jennrich, per The mission received formal approval Jan. 25. Work is to begin a year from now, "once a European industrial contractor has been chosen," per the ESA. (More space stories.)

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