BEACON TRANSCRIPT – On Tuesday, the European Space Agency (ESA) announced the approval of the first observatory in space specially designed for the study of gravitational waves. This project was delayed in 2011, because NASA abandoned it due to the lack of proof of the existence of such waves. However, their existence was confirmed this year in February.
The observatory is set to launch in 2034
The observatory, called the Laser Interferometer Space Antennae (LISA), will make it possible for scientists to study supermassive black holes, which are formed when galaxies collide and merge. LISA will be different from the ground observatory, Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO), since its object of study consists of different kind of gravitational waves.
In February this year, LIGO confirmed the existence of the gravitational waves scientists were so interested in. This convinced NASA to want to become a part of the project again. Therefore, the space agencies plan to start working on the space observatory, and get it ready for launching in 2034.
Capturing the gravitational waves produced by supermassive black holes
These gravitational waves LISA is going to study are, in fact, loops which affect the shape of space, traveling at the speed of light. They are produced when galaxies or other cosmic objects collide. These collisions usually result in the formation of supermassive black holes. Therefore, almost all massive galaxies have a supermassive black hole at the center.
LISA will consist of three spacecrafts sent to orbit behind Earth. They will be placed in a triangle, 1.5 million miles from each other. Each spacecraft will be equipped with cubes working as reference points for the lasers they will send from one to the other. Then, according to the distance these lasers have to travel, the observatory will identify gravitational waves.
A space-based observatory is better for studying gravitational waves produced by supermassive black holes, which are harder to detect by LIGO. Also, there’s no need for special equipment to reduce the impact of background noise. LISA will launch in 2034, and it might take scientists around five years to collect all the needed information.