Laser Interferometer Space Antenna (LISA)
Credit: Lisa Project; ESA; NASA

Silver Surfers 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 isolated from even the smallest disturbances. Achieving these incredible measurements is the goal of a space-based experiment called the Laser Interferometry Space Antenna, or LISA, currently under development. LISA consists of 3 spacecraft flying in a triangular formation following the earth in orbit around the sun. Gravity waves passing by should change the distances between the spacecraft by different amounts and let astronomers measure the strength and direction of the source of the gravitational radiation. The picture above shows the 3 LISA spacecraft, along with expected sources of gravity waves which LISA can study. LISA was highly recommended by the Astro2010: The Astronomy and Astrophysics Decadal Survey conducted for the National Academies of Science. LISA will be preceded by the LISA Pathfinder mission, to be launched in 2012. LISA Pathfinder will demonstrate many of the cutting edge technologies needed to make LISA a success.
Published: September 20, 2010

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Page Author: Dr. Michael F. Corcoran
Last modified Sunday, 26-Sep-2010 08:20:11 EDT