Artist concept of LISA
Credit: ESA

Choosing LISA

The Universe is mostly studied by measuring the amount and type of radiation emitted by massive objects in space. Scientists are now trying to view the universe in a completely new way, by studying "gravitational radiation", or "gravitational waves". Gravitational waves were predicted by Einstein and are caused by the acceleration of massive bodies, similar to the way that electromagnetic waves are produced by the acceleration of electrically charged bodies. But gravitational waves are waves in the ocean of spacetime itself, stretching and compressing both space and time as they pass by. The recent spectacular detections of gravitational waves by LIGO, and the smashing success of the LISA Pathfinder mission have accelerated interest in a space-based gravitational wave detector. The European Space Agency has just selected the Laser Interferometry Space Antenna mission, or LISA, as the third large space mission in ESA's current science program. LISA consists of 3 spacecraft flying in a triangular formation, each separated by 2.5 million kilometers, following the earth in its orbit around the sun. Gravitational waves that pass by will change the distances between the spacecraft, and let astronomers measure the strength and direction of the source of the gravitational radiation. The picture above shows one of the LISA spacecraft, connected to its two partner ships by laser beams which are used to measure precisely the separations of the spaceships. LISA is currently expected to launch in 2034.
Published: June 26, 2017

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Page Author: Dr. Michael F. Corcoran
Last modified Monday, 26-Jun-2017 07:26:44 EDT