Feeds

ESA on mission to surf gravity's waves

Pathfinder craft to test Einstein prediction

  • alert
  • submit to reddit

Seven Steps to Software Security

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

The Power of One eBook: Top reasons to choose HP BladeSystem

More from The Register

next story
Beancounters tell NASA it's too poor to fly planned mega-rocket
Space Launch System would need another $400m and a lot of time
Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 claimed lives of HIV/AIDS cure scientists
Researchers, advocates, health workers among those on shot-down plane
Bad back? Show some spine and stop popping paracetamol
Study finds common pain-killer doesn't reduce pain or shorten recovery
World Solar Challenge contender claims new speed record
One charge sees Sunswift travel 500kms at over 100 km/h
Vote now for LOHAN's stirring mission patch motto
Does the shed actually know no bounds, or what?
SMELL YOU LATER, LOSERS – Dumbo tells rats, dogs... humans
Junk in the trunk? That's what people have
All those new '5G standards'? Here's the science they rely on
Radio professor tells us how wireless will get faster in the real world
The Sun took a day off last week and made NO sunspots
Someone needs to get that lazy star cooking again before things get cold around here
prev story

Whitepapers

Top three mobile application threats
Prevent sensitive data leakage over insecure channels or stolen mobile devices.
Implementing global e-invoicing with guaranteed legal certainty
Explaining the role local tax compliance plays in successful supply chain management and e-business and how leading global brands are addressing this.
Top 8 considerations to enable and simplify mobility
In this whitepaper learn how to successfully add mobile capabilities simply and cost effectively.
Application security programs and practises
Follow a few strategies and your organization can gain the full benefits of open source and the cloud without compromising the security of your applications.
The Essential Guide to IT Transformation
ServiceNow discusses three IT transformations that can help CIO's automate IT services to transform IT and the enterprise.