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posted by martyb on Friday December 04 2015, @06:30AM   Printer-friendly
from the I-like-ripple-ice-cream dept.

The European Space Agency launched a rocket Thursday carrying two cubes of gold and platinum almost a million miles from Earth so scientists can see how they'll behave in a freefall—at a cost of more than $450 million.

What may sound like a frivolous enterprise is actually the prelude to a far more ambitious mission that hopes to measure ripples in space time caused by black holes and other massive objects lurking unseen in dark corners of the galaxy.

Also known as gravitational waves, these ripples were predicted by Albert Einstein a century ago but have never been directly detected.

In order for that mission—tentatively scheduled for launch in 2034—to succeed, the European Space Agency first has to test whether it can shield objects from external influences well enough to measure the minute effects of gravitational waves.

"We want to see whether we can create an environment in orbit that's free of interference, and where we can conduct these high-precision measurements," said Michael Menking, senior vice president for Earth observation, navigation and science at Airbus Defense and Space. The company is the main technology contractor on the LISA Pathfinder mission.
...
By mid-January, the probe will have reached an orbit about 1.5 million kilometers (930,000 miles) from Earth, where the pull from the planet's gravity is balanced by that of the sun. The cubes—made from gold and platinum to reduce their susceptibility to magnetic fields—are then carefully released inside a box that shields them from cosmic particles and other interference that might affect the measurements performed by a sensitive laser. The laser is capable of detecting movements of less than 10 millionths of a millionth of a meter.


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  • (Score: 3, Funny) by aristarchus on Friday December 04 2015, @06:35AM

    by aristarchus (2645) on Friday December 04 2015, @06:35AM (#271709) Journal

    My quantum surfboard is all waxed and ready to go. I only use Dr. Zog's "Sex Wax", because it makes you stick, on your stick. Not sure how it functions on gravity waves, but there is only one way to find out! Kowabunga, Dudes!

    --
    "Believe it or not, your opinion on this topic is really not necessary,"
  • (Score: 1, Interesting) by Anonymous Coward on Friday December 04 2015, @07:43AM

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday December 04 2015, @07:43AM (#271714)

    The laser is capable of detecting movements of less than 10 millionths of a millionth of a meter.

    Or in short, it is capable of detecting movements of less than 0.1 picometers, or 100 femtometers.
    That's less than 0.5% of the size of an atom. [wikipedia.org]

  • (Score: 4, Funny) by Snotnose on Friday December 04 2015, @10:38AM

    by Snotnose (1623) on Friday December 04 2015, @10:38AM (#271757)

    is get your mama to walk by the detector to prove/disprove the existence of gravity waves.

    --
    The 3 symptoms of laziness: 1) think of something tomorrow 2)
    • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Friday December 04 2015, @04:37PM

      by Anonymous Coward on Friday December 04 2015, @04:37PM (#271844)

      To create measurable gravity waves, you not only need a large mass, but also a large acceleration. I doubt your mama is able to manage the latter.

      • (Score: 2) by xav on Friday December 04 2015, @10:43PM

        by xav (5579) on Friday December 04 2015, @10:43PM (#271980)

        Just build a large enough catapult.

      • (Score: 1, Offtopic) by Snotnose on Saturday December 05 2015, @12:13AM

        by Snotnose (1623) on Saturday December 05 2015, @12:13AM (#272016)

        I've seen yo momma fart, them ass cheeks move pretty fast.

        --
        The 3 symptoms of laziness: 1) think of something tomorrow 2)
  • (Score: 2) by DECbot on Friday December 04 2015, @04:16PM

    by DECbot (832) on Friday December 04 2015, @04:16PM (#271834) Journal

    ...how large are these cubes? Are they the majority of the $450 million dollar cost? (probably not, but...) I wonder how cheaply those cubes could be recovered and would they pay for the cost of the recovery mission? Using common liquid propane for BBQ grills and medical grade liquid O2, how efficient of a rocket could I produce--i.e. would that produce enough thrust to get into orbit? Into LISA's orbit? Into LISA's orbit with a grappling robot and a return capsule?

    $Deity! this article really makes me think.

    --
    cats~$ sudo chown -R us /home/base
    • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Friday December 04 2015, @04:35PM

      by Anonymous Coward on Friday December 04 2015, @04:35PM (#271841)

      According to the article, they are 2kg each. The gold cube therefore should be about $70,000, the platin cube about $55,000.

      • (Score: 3, Funny) by DECbot on Friday December 04 2015, @04:46PM

        by DECbot (832) on Friday December 04 2015, @04:46PM (#271848) Journal

        That severely limits my rocket budget. How am I to fund building a launch facility in a tropical, volcanic island?

        --
        cats~$ sudo chown -R us /home/base