The European Space Agency’s LISA Pathfinder spacecraft, now sailing around the sun on a trajectory away from Earth, was deactivated Tuesday after a nearly 18-month mission testing previously-untried lasers, vacuum enclosures, exotic gold-platinum cubes and micro-thrusters needed for a trio of gravitational wave observatories set for launch in the 2030s.
Three billion years ago, in a third of a second, two black holes crashed into each other and merged into a single entity, converting two solar masses into energy that shook the fabric of spacetime, sending gravitational ripples across the universe that were detected on Earth last January, researchers announced Thursday.
In the final months of Europe’s LISA Pathfinder mission, scientists have found an unexpected use for the trailblazing testbed for a future gravitational wave observatory by tracking the tiny dings made by microscopic particles that strike the spacecraft in deep space, exploiting the impacts to learn about the population of dust grains cast off by comets and asteroids across the solar system.
Europe’s LISA Pathfinder mission — a fundamental physics lab launched last year to a point a million miles from Earth — has demonstrated the mind-boggling technology required for a future space-based observatory to listen for faint, low-frequency vibrations emitted by invisible objects in the most distant pockets of the universe, scientists said this week.
Alvaro Giménez Cañete manages the European Space Agency’s science program, a portfolio with a budget of nearly $600 million this year, and he recently spoke with Spaceflight Now about Europe’s hopes to build a gravitational wave observatory, the ExoMars mission to Mars, and tagging along with NASA’s probe to Jupiter’s moon Europa.