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In this episode of DNews, Ian O'Neill, space producer for Discovery News, talks about something he's obsessed with: the challenging hunt for gravitational waves. They are basically ripples in spacetime. If we wanted to, we could analyze the amplitude, speed and direction of these ripples to determine the mass of a falling object and we'd learn useful information about what sort of matter its interacting with as well. Gravitational waves were first theorized by Einstein nearly 100 years ago. We have strong, indirect evidence that they're exist, but directly detecting them has been very difficult.
But science might finally be closing in on these elusive little waves. US-based Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) detector has been upgraded to begin the most precise search for gravitational waves ever. There are high hopes that through new noise-reduction and laser techniques that gravitational waves will not only be identified, but will also be used to see energetic events such as black hole and neutron star collisions, supernovas and, potentially, the effects of dark matter. Basically, once this is achieved, the era of gravitational wave astronomy will have begun.
But there's an even more advanced detector planned that could revolutionize our view of the cosmos, and it involves sending a gravitational wave detector into space, far from all the noise and commotion we have down here on Earth: Europe's Evolved Laser Interferometer Space Antenna (eLISA) is scheduled to launch into an orbit around the Sun in 2034 and will consist of 3 spacecraft. The 3 probes will form the points of a triangle spaced millions of miles apart, setting up the mother of all laser interferometers. Laser interferometry is perfect for measuring extremely tiny fluctuations in distance, a necessity for detecting faint gravitational wave signals. But 2034 is a long time to wait--why is it going to take this long to launch? In short, the technology isn't there yet and the final design of eLISA isn't close to being finalized. But later this year, the first component of eLISA will be launched to test some key technologies.
Advanced LIGO Resumes Quest for Gravitational Waves (DNews)
"After undergoing a 5-year upgrade, the world's most powerful gravitational wave detector is back online and hunting for the tiniest of tiny fluctuations in spacetime."
What Are Gravitational Wave? (Universe Today)
"When massive objects crash into each other, there should be a release of gravitational waves. So what are these things and how can we detect them?"