LISA ‘Listens’ to the Universe While in Free-Fall

Saturday, June 11, 2016 - 12:58

The European Space Agency hopes to use LISA to measure gravitational waves.

According to Engadget, the European Space Agency (ESA) launched the Laser Interferometer Space Antenna (LISA) Pathfinder spacecraft last December. LISA has finally positioned itself in gravitational stasis at the first Langrangian Point (L1) that lets its instruments hang in free-fall. It will filter out extraneous cosmic noise so the spacecraft can achieve its mission: measuring gravitational waves, the "sound" of the universe.

Among cosmic phenomena, black holes are difficult to study because they do not emit light, but they do send out gravitational wave radiation and LISA has been designed to "hear" those waves: "much like listening in a pitch-black forest, you can't see the wildlife but know it's there," ESA official Fabio Favata said in a press briefing.

LISA has two gold-platinum alloy cubes inside it. Once the spacecraft successfully positioned itself at L1, a static point between the gravity of Earth and Sun, those cubes float in near-perfect free-fall. Without other forces acting on them, scientists can use the cubes like a microphone to track the only force left: gravitational waves.

As stated in the NASA webpage on LISA, Gravitational wave observations will enable studies of: the formation and growth of massive black holes and their co-evolving host galaxies; structure formation; stellar populations and dynamics in galactic nuclei; compact stars; the structure of our Galaxy; General Relativity in extreme conditions; cosmology; and searches for new physics. Information from LISA sources will provide unique insight into extraordinary astrophysical objects. Combined with electromagnetic observations, these insights will advance the broader scientific understanding.

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