Laser Interferometry Space Antenna
Credit: LISA Consortium; ESA; NASA

Surfing the Ocean of Spacetime

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 "gravity waves". Gravity 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 gravity waves don't move through space - they are waves in the ocean of spacetime itself. Efforts to detect gravitational radiation span decades, but it's a rather daunting task - the detectors must be insulated from even minute disturbances. A space-based experiment called the Laser Interferometry Space Antenna, or LISA, is currently under construction. LISA consists of 3 spacecraft which will follow the earth in orbit around the sun. Gravity waves passing by should change the distances between the spacecraft by different amounts. The picture above shows the 3 LISA spacecraft, along with expected sources of gravity waves which LISA can study. LISA will be able to study sources of gravity waves from such exotic processes like black hole mergers and back to the earliest stages in the birth of the Universe.

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Page Author: Dr. Michael F. Corcoran
Last modified Friday, 20-Apr-2012 15:27:51 EDT