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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.

Animals,, Evolution

Size matters to lizards, but numbers may not

By Helen Thompson 4:00pm, April 14, 2017
Scientists have sized up the quantitative abilities of lizards and found that reptiles may not be as good with numbers as other vertebrates.
Ecology,, Animals,, Earth

Volcanic eruptions nearly snuffed out Gentoo penguin colony

By Helen Thompson 2:00pm, April 12, 2017
Penguin poop dumps data on how a Gentoo colony responded to ancient volcanic eruptions.
Climate,, Oceans,, Ecosystems

The Great Barrier Reef is experiencing a major coral bleaching event right now

By Thomas Sumner 3:45pm, April 11, 2017
A second coral bleaching event has struck the Great Barrier Reef in 12 months, new observations reveal, raising concerns about the natural wonder’s future.

Bedbugs bugged prehistoric humans, too

By Laurel Hamers 9:00am, April 10, 2017
Scientists have found the oldest known specimens of bedbug relatives in an Oregon cave system where ancient humans once lived.
Astronomy,, Physics

Event Horizon Telescope to try to capture images of elusive black hole edge

By Emily Conover 5:00am, April 5, 2017
Network of radio observatories will attempt a first-ever glimpse at an event horizon.
Technology,, Astronomy

SpaceX launches and lands its first reused rocket

By Emily DeMarco 6:42pm, March 30, 2017
Aerospace company SpaceX has successfully reused a Falcon 9 rocket’s booster section for the first time.
Anthropology,, Archaeology

Neandertals had an eye for patterns

By Bruce Bower 2:00pm, March 29, 2017
Neandertals carved notches in a raven bone, possibly to produce a pleasing or symbolic pattern, scientists say.
Climate,, Oceans

Arctic sea ice hits record wintertime low

By Thomas Sumner 12:31pm, March 23, 2017
Warm temperatures and heat waves reduced sea ice extent in the Arctic to its smallest maximum extent ever seen.
Animals,, Ecology

Tool use in sea otters doesn't run in the family

By Helen Thompson 8:44pm, March 21, 2017
A genetic study suggests that tool-use behavior isn’t hereditary in sea otters, and that only some animals need to use tools due to the type of food available in their ecosystem.
Particle Physics

Large Hadron Collider experiment nabs five new particles

By Emily Conover 3:25pm, March 21, 2017
LHCb experiment detects new particles composed of two strange quarks and one charm quark.
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