Feeds

ESA on mission to surf gravity's waves

Pathfinder craft to test Einstein prediction

  • alert
  • submit to reddit

Intelligent flash storage arrays

A UK company has won the contract to build the heart of an ESA experiment designed to detect gravity waves, predicted by Einstein's general theory of relativity.

The Lisa (Laser Interferometer Space Antenna) Pathfinder mission, scheduled for launch in 2008, is a precursor to the main event. The Lisa mission itself could revolutionise astronomy, scientists say, but before that can happen, they need to know whether their experiments will work. This is where the pathfinder mission comes in.

Identifying the ripples in space-time is no easy task, and although there is indirect evidence for their existence, no-one has ever detected one directly. Experiments on Earth searching for gravity waves do so by bouncing laser beams down tunnels that are hundreds of metres long, and checking for tiny path deviations.The disturbances the astronomers are looking for are vanishingly small - approximately a thousandth of the size of a proton.

The idea behind the Lisa mission is that in space, a laser beam can be sent rather further, and so the disturbance in the photon's path will be larger and easier to detect. Easier, but not easy, and still only around a billionth of a millimetre over five million kilometres.

The Lisa mission will consist of three spacecraft flying in a triangular formation. The sides of this equilateral triangle will be five million kilometres long. Each craft will hold a free floating gold block held in place by electrostatic fields. The lasers will measure the distances between these blocks.

Part of the job of the pathfinder mission is to find out how well insulated the scientists have been able to make the craft from background noise that could overwhelm the instrumentation. They have also developed ways of allowing for the gravity of the individual components which also need to be tested.

Professor David Southwood, Esa's director of science told The BBC: "To find answers you have to search the unknown. Lisa takes us into totally new activities; a totally new kind of astronomy. Pathfinder is the necessary technological step that kicks us off into an unknown Universe." ®

Related stories

Chocks away for NASA's Einstein test
Einstein probe launch delayed
Perfect balls and rubber sheets
Einstein fends off Reality Distortion Field

Intelligent flash storage arrays

More from The Register

next story
Boffins who stare at goats: I do believe they’re SHRINKING
Alpine chamois being squashed by global warming
Comet Siding Spring revealed as flying molehill
Hiding from this space pimple isn't going to do humanity's reputation any good
Experts brand LOHAN's squeaky-clean box
Phytosanitary treatment renders Vulture 2 crate fit for export
LONG ARM of the SAUR: Brachially gifted dino bone conundrum solved
Deinocheirus mirificus was a bit of a knuckle dragger
MARS NEEDS WOMEN, claims NASA pseudo 'naut: They eat less
'Some might find this idea offensive' boffin admits
No sail: NASA spikes Sunjammer
'Solar sail' demonstrator project binned
Carry On Cosmonaut: Willful Child is a poor taste Star Trek parody
Cringeworthy, crude and crass jokes abound in Steven Erikson’s sci-fi debut
prev story

Whitepapers

Cloud and hybrid-cloud data protection for VMware
Learn how quick and easy it is to configure backups and perform restores for VMware environments.
A strategic approach to identity relationship management
ForgeRock commissioned Forrester to evaluate companies’ IAM practices and requirements when it comes to customer-facing scenarios versus employee-facing ones.
High Performance for All
While HPC is not new, it has traditionally been seen as a specialist area – is it now geared up to meet more mainstream requirements?
Three 1TB solid state scorchers up for grabs
Big SSDs can be expensive but think big and think free because you could be the lucky winner of one of three 1TB Samsung SSD 840 EVO drives that we’re giving away worth over £300 apiece.
Security for virtualized datacentres
Legacy security solutions are inefficient due to the architectural differences between physical and virtual environments.