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Researchers are building a detector that is millions of kilometers across

Researchers are building a detector that is millions of kilometers across

A project to build what may be humanity's most impressive measuring device has now gotten the green light: Researchers from NASA and the European Space Agency want to work together to build a massive gravitational-wave detector in space.

2.6 million kilometers of measurement path

Earth instruments of this type have perhaps achieved the most impressive measurements in history. Roughly speaking, they work by superimposing two laser beams coming from different directions so that their waves cancel each other out. If a passing gravitational wave distorts the space in the measuring section by fractions of a millimeter, the overlay no longer fits perfectly and the laser light becomes visible and thus the effect appears.

In order to be able to measure more accurately and without interference in the future, scientists intend to create such a system in open space. According to current plans, the Laser Interferometer Space Antenna (LISA) is scheduled to be launched into space in the 2030s. It will then consist of three separate spacecraft, which will be placed at specified distances from each other at a greater distance, thus also extending along two angular axes.
Lisa gravitational wave detectorThis is something Lisa should look like

The three LISA spacecraft will follow Earth as it orbits the sun, forming an equilateral triangle in space. The length of each side of this triangle is 2.6 million kilometers. The three corner points are also associated with lasers that change their wavelengths when gravitational waves pass over them.

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“LISA is an endeavor that has never been attempted before,” said Nora Litzgendorf, lead scientist on the project. “Using laser beams at distances of several kilometers, ground-based instruments can detect gravitational waves that arise from events involving star-sized objects — such as supernova explosions or the merger of very dense stars and stellar-mass black holes. Gravitational research, we need to go into space.”

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Gravitational waves were first predicted by Albert Einstein. Accordingly, every movement of a body with mass must cause ripples in spacetime, just as a body does on the surface of water. However, in his calculations, Einstein came to the conclusion that even gravitational waves caused by the most massive objects would be far too weak to be measured at all. Tremendous advances in experimental physics and technology made this possible about a hundred years after Einstein's predictions.


  • NASA and the European Space Agency plan to create a gravitational wave detector in space
  • The instruments measure the ground by superimposing a laser
  • Distortion of space caused by gravitational waves alters laser light
  • The LISA project is scheduled to begin in the 2030s with three space probes
  • Space probes form an equilateral triangle with sides 2.6 million kilometers long
  • LISA measures gravitational waves over long distances in space
  • Einstein predicted the existence of gravitational waves, and their measurement is now possible

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