Starts With A Bang

LIGO’s Successor Approved; Will Discover Incredible New Sources Of Gravitational Waves (Synopsis)

An artist's impression of the three LISA spacecraft shows that the ripples in space generated by longer-period gravitational wave sources should provide an interesting new window on the Universe. Image credit: EADS Astrium.

“Einstein’s gravitational theory, which is said to be the greatest single achievement of theoretical physics, resulted in beautiful relations connecting gravitational phenomena with the geometry of space; this was an exciting idea.” -Richard Feynman

There’s no doubt that LIGO has given us one of the most incredible breakthroughs of the 21st century: the direct detection of gravitational waves. But as wonderful as LIGO is, so far it’s only been able to detect the very final stages of mergers of stellar mass-scale black holes, and only every few months at that. The technique of laser interferometry is sound and powerful, but properties inherent to Earth itself fundamentally limit how good LIGO can potentially be.

The LISA Pathfinder mission was a successful proof-of-concept mission that paves the way for LISA to fly. The successful mission was launched in 2015, and LISA has been approved for 2034. Image credit: ESA/Manuel Pedoussaut.

But these restrictions go away if we go to space! Not only can we eliminate seismic noise, cease accounting for the curvature of the Earth, and get a better vacuum for free, but we can achieve much longer baselines. By sending a series of spacecraft up into orbit behind the Earth, we can detect more massive, more distant, and slower-period sources than LIGO could ever hope to see.

The sensitivities of a variety of gravitational wave detectors, old, new, and proposed. Note, in particular, Advanced LIGO (in orange), LISA (in dark blue), and BBO (in light blue). Image credit: Minglei Tong, Class.Quant.Grav. 29 (2012) 155006.

LISA is the gravitational wave observatory of the future, and the European Space Agency just greenlit it for 2034! Come get the exciting news and find out what science it will be able to do today!