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353422 How LISA – A Gravitational Wave Observatory in Space – Will Transform Our Cosmic Understanding

The LISA (Laser Interferometer Space Antenna) mission, led by ESA (European Space Agency) with NASA contributions, will detect gravitational waves in space using three spacecraft, separated by more than a million miles, flying in a triangular formation. Lasers fired between the satellites, shown in this artist’s concept, will measure how gravitational waves alter their relative distances. Credit: AEI/MM/Exozet

LISA, a collaborative mission between ESA and NASAEstablished in 1958, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) is an independent agency of the United States Federal Government that succeeded the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA). It is responsible for the civilian space program, as well as aeronautics and aerospace research. Its vision is "To discover and expand knowledge for the benefit of humanity." Its core values are "safety, integrity, teamwork, excellence, and inclusion." NASA conducts research, develops technology and launches missions to explore and study Earth, the solar system, and the universe beyond. It also works to advance the state of knowledge in a wide range of scientific fields, including Earth and space science, planetary science, astrophysics, and heliophysics, and it collaborates with private companies and international partners to achieve its goals.” data-gt-translate-attributes=”[{“attribute”:”data-cmtooltip”, “format”:”html”}]” tabindex=”0″ role=”link”>NASA, aims to detect gravitational wavesGravitational waves are distortions or ripples in the fabric of space and time. They were first detected in 2015 by the Advanced LIGO detectors and are produced by catastrophic events such as colliding black holes, supernovae, or merging neutron stars.” data-gt-translate-attributes=”[{“attribute”:”data-cmtooltip”, “format”:”html”}]” tabindex=”0″ role=”link”>gravitational waves from space, offering new insights into the cosmos through advanced technology and international cooperation.

The first space-based observatory designed to detect gravitational waves has passed a major review and will proceed to the construction of flight hardware. On January 25, ESA (European Space AgencyThe European Space Agency (ESA) is an intergovernmental organization dedicated to the exploration and study of space. ESA was established in 1975 and has 22 member states, with its headquarters located in Paris, France. ESA is responsible for the development and coordination of Europe's space activities, including the design, construction, and launch of spacecraft and satellites for scientific research and Earth observation. Some of ESA's flagship missions have included the Rosetta mission to study a comet, the Gaia mission to create a 3D map of the Milky Way, and the ExoMars mission to search for evidence of past or present life on Mars.” data-gt-translate-attributes=”[{“attribute”:”data-cmtooltip”, “format”:”html”}]” tabindex=”0″ role=”link”>European Space Agency), announced the formal adoption of LISA, the Laser Interferometer Space Antenna, to its mission lineup, with launch slated for the mid-2030s. ESA leads the mission, with NASA serving as a collaborative partner.

NASA’s Role and Mission Collaboration

“In 2015, the ground-based LIGOThe Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) is a large-scale physics experiment and observatory supported by the National Science Foundation and operated by Caltech and MIT. It's designed to detect cosmic gravitational waves and to develop gravitational-wave observations as an astronomical tool. It's multi-kilometer-scale gravitational wave detectors use laser interferometry to measure the minute ripples in space-time caused by passing gravitational waves. It consists of two widely separated interferometers within the United States—one in Hanford, Washington and the other in Livingston, Louisiana.” data-gt-translate-attributes=”[{“attribute”:”data-cmtooltip”, “format”:”html”}]” tabindex=”0″ role=”link”>LIGO observatory cracked open the window into gravitational waves, disturbances that sweep across space-time, the fabric of our universe,” said Mark Clampin, director of the Astrophysics Division at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “LISA will give us a panoramic view, allowing us to observe a broad range of sources both within our galaxy and far, far beyond it. We’re proud to be part of this international effort to open new avenues to explore the secrets of the universe.”

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The LISA mission will enable observations of gravitational waves produced by merging supermassive black holes, seen here in a computer simulation. Most big galaxies contain central black holes weighing millions of times the mass of our Sun. When these galaxies collide, eventually their black holes do too. Credit: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center/Scott Noble; simulation data, d’Ascoli et al. 2018

NASA will provide several key components of LISA’s instrument suite along with science and engineering support. NASA contributions include lasers, telescopes, and devices to reduce disturbances from electromagnetic charges. LISA will use this equipment as it measures precise distance changes, caused by gravitational waves, over millions of miles in space. ESA will provide the spacecraft and oversee the international team during the development and operation of the mission.

Gravitational Waves: Unveiling Cosmic Secrets

Gravitational waves were predicted by Albert Einstein’s general theory of relativity more than a century ago. They are produced by accelerating masses, such as a pair of orbiting black holes. Because these waves remove orbital energy, the distance between the objects gradually shrinks over millions of years, and they ultimately merge.

These ripples in the fabric of space went undetected until 2015, when LIGO, the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory, funded by the U.S. National Science Foundation, measured gravitational waves from the merger of two black holes. This discovery furthered a new field of science called “multimessenger astronomy” in which gravitational waves could be used in conjunction with the other cosmic “messengers” – light and particles – to observe the universe in new ways.

Along with other ground-based facilities, LIGO has since observed dozens more black holeA black hole is a place in space where the gravitational field is so strong that not even light can escape it. Astronomers classify black holes into three categories by size: miniature, stellar, and supermassive black holes. Miniature black holes could have a mass smaller than our Sun and supermassive black holes could have a mass equivalent to billions of our Sun.” data-gt-translate-attributes=”[{“attribute”:”data-cmtooltip”, “format”:”html”}]” tabindex=”0″ role=”link”>black hole mergers, as well as mergers of neutron stars and neutron starA neutron star is the collapsed core of a large (between 10 and 29 solar masses) star. Neutron stars are the smallest and densest stars known to exist. Though neutron stars typically have a radius on the order of just 10 – 20 kilometers (6 – 12 miles), they can have masses of about 1.3 – 2.5 that of the Sun.” data-gt-translate-attributes=”[{“attribute”:”data-cmtooltip”, “format”:”html”}]” tabindex=”0″ role=”link”>neutron star-black hole systems. So far, the black holes detected through gravitational waves have been relatively small, with masses of tens to perhaps a hundred times that of our Sun. But scientists think that mergers of much more massive black holes were common when the universe was young, and only a space-based observatory could be sensitive to gravitational waves from them.

LISA’s Unique Contribution to Astronomy

“LISA is designed to sense low-frequency gravitational waves that instruments on Earth cannot detect,” said Ira Thorpe, the NASA study scientist for the mission at the agency’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. “These sources encompass tens of thousands of small binary systems in our own galaxy, as well as massive black holes merging as galaxies collided in the early universe.”

Synthetic Map of the Entire Sky Constructed From Gravitational Waves

Gravitational waves from a simulated population of compact binary systems in our galaxy were used to construct this synthetic map of the entire sky. Such systems contain white dwarfs, neutron stars, or black holes in tight orbits. Maps like this using real data will be possible once the LISA mission becomes active in the next decade. The center of our Milky Way galaxy lies at the center of this all-sky view, with the galactic plane extending across the middle. Brighter spots indicate sources with stronger gravitational signals and lighter colors indicate those with higher frequencies. Larger colored patches show sources whose positions are less well known. Credit: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center

LISA will consist of three spacecraft flying in a vast triangular formation that follows Earth in its orbit around the Sun. Each arm of the triangle stretches 1.6 million miles (2.5 million kilometers). The spacecraft will track internal test masses affected only by gravity. At the same time, they’ll continuously fire lasers to measure their separations to within a span smaller than the size of a helium atomAn atom is the smallest component of an element. It is made up of protons and neutrons within the nucleus, and electrons circling the nucleus.” data-gt-translate-attributes=”[{“attribute”:”data-cmtooltip”, “format”:”html”}]” tabindex=”0″ role=”link”>atom. Gravitational waves from sources throughout the universe will produce oscillations in the lengths of the triangle’s arms, and LISA will capture these changes.

Technological Innovations and Future Prospects

The technology central to LISA’s mission was validated by ESA’s LISA Pathfinder mission, which showcased the precise control and laser measurements necessary for detecting gravitational waves. This technological milestone paves the way for LISA to explore previously inaccessible aspects of the universe, offering insights into the dynamics of massive celestial bodies and the fabric of spacetime itself.

Source: SciTechDaily