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Science Ticker

Satellite trio will hunt gravitational waves from space

European Space Agency green-lights LISA detector, expected to launch in 2034

illustration of LISA satellite

IN THE BALANCE A trio of freefloating spacecraft called  LISA (one of the satellites illustrated) will search for gravitational waves from space in a mission expected to launch in 2034.

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The hunt for gravitational waves is moving upward. A space-based detector called the Laser Interferometer Space Antenna, or LISA, was selected as a mission in the European Space Agency’s science program, the agency announced June 20.

LISA will consist of three identical satellites arranged in a triangle that will cartwheel through space in orbit around the sun just behind Earth. The spacecraft will use lasers to detect changes in the distance between each satellite. Those changes would indicate the passage of gravitational waves, the ripples in spacetime that massive bodies such as black holes shake off when they move.

The spacecraft was originally planned as a joint mission between ESA and NASA, but NASA pulled out in 2011 citing budget issues. In December 2015, ESA launched a single satellite called LISA Pathfinder to test the concept — a test it passed with flying colors.

Interest in LISA increased in 2016 after researchers at the ground-based LIGO detectors announced that they had finally observed gravitational waves. LIGO is best suited for detecting the crash caused when dense objects such as neutron stars or solar-mass black holes collide.

LISA, on the other hand, will be sensitive to the collision of much more massive objects — such as the supermassive black holes that make up most galaxies’ cores.

The mission design and cost are still being completed. If all goes as planned, LISA will launch in 2034.

Paleontology,, Animals,, Evolution

New fossils shake up history of amphibians with no legs

By Susan Milius 3:30pm, June 19, 2017
The oldest near-relative of today’s snake-shaped caecilians could have an unexpected backstory.
Animals,, Genetics

Facial recognition changes a wasp’s brain

By Helen Thompson 6:00pm, June 14, 2017
A new study maps genes at play in a paper wasp’s brain during facial recognition.
Earth,, Climate

Antarctica’s Larsen C ice shelf is within days of completely cracking

By Ashley Yeager 6:26pm, June 1, 2017
The crack in Antarctica’s Larsen C ice shelf grew another 17 kilometers between May 25 and May 31, 2017 and is at risk of breaking off a massive iceberg.
Climate,, Pollution,, Science & Society

U.S. will withdraw from climate pact, Trump announces

By Maria Temming 5:58pm, June 1, 2017
President Trump announced June 1 that the United States will withdraw from the Paris climate accord.
Genetics,, Archaeology

Mummy DNA unveils the history of ancient Egyptian hookups

By Helen Thompson 4:30pm, May 31, 2017
A study of DNA extracted from Egyptian mummies untangles ancient ancestry and attempts to resolve quality issues.
Animals,, Biophysics,, Evolution

Petite parrots provide insight into early flight

By Helen Thompson 9:00am, May 24, 2017
High-speed video shows that tiny parrots direct their hops to use the least amount of energy necessary.
Planetary Science

TRAPPIST-1’s seventh planet is a chilly world

By Ashley Yeager 9:00am, May 23, 2017
Follow-up observations of TRAPPIST-1 and its seven planets reveals details about the outermost one.
Development

Mouse sperm survive space to spawn

By Laurel Hamers 3:00pm, May 22, 2017
Sperm freeze-dried and sent into space for months of exposure to high levels of solar radiation later produced healthy baby mice.
Biomedicine,, Health

Older adults may not benefit from taking statins

By Aimee Cunningham 2:30pm, May 22, 2017
Statins did not reduce heart attacks, coronary heart disease deaths or deaths from any cause in people age 65 and older, a new analysis finds.
Climate,, Animals,, Ecology

Higher temperatures could trigger an uptick in damselfly cannibalism

By Helen Thompson 7:05pm, May 16, 2017
Experiments in the lab suggest that increases in temperature could indirectly lead to an increase in cannibalistic damselfly nymphs.
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