At the threshold of gravitational-wave astronomy

The Science Museum in London presents an exhibition devoted to current gravitational wave research. Opening of the exhibition Cosmos & Culture on 23 July.

July 21, 2009

The AEI will provide a full-scale model of a LISA satellite

As part of the exhibition Cosmos & Culture, the Science Museum in London will display for the first time an exhibition devoted to current gravitational wave research and the related technological development. As a special highlight, a full-scale model of a LISA satellite, a loan from the Max Planck Institute for Gravitational Physics (Albert Einstein Institute/AEI), will be on display.  LISA stands for Laser Interferometer Space Antenna, certainly one of the most exciting projects set to measure gravitational waves and one of the biggest joint space missions between NASA and ESA. The space observatory will be created via a triangular formation of three satellites that will be linked to one another through a five million-kilometre long laser beam and will orbit the Sun while flying in an Earth-like orbit. LISA is expected to be launched in 2020. Already in 2011, LISA’s highly precise technology will be tested in space: with the LISA pathfinder mission, which will be spearheaded by ESA.

“For us scientists from the AEI it is a special honour to provide a glimpse into the future at the London Science Museum. The AEI has gladly provided the renowned museum with a 1:1 model of a LISA satellite,” says Prof. Dr. Karsten Danzmann, Director at the AEI and scientific head of the LISA mission on the European side.

Central elements of the earthbound gravitational wave observatories will also be on display, including: a 25 cm and 23 kg heavy prototype test mass of the purest synthetic sapphire that was manufactured for the research and development work within the framework of the German-British GEO collaboration. The test mass is a key element for precision measurements with a laser interferometer. A laser beam will be reflected onto it, be intensified and send back again to the point of departure. It “tracks down” the gravitational wave that passes through. The extremely high-grade test masses are being developed at the Gravitational Research (IGR) at the University of Glasgow in Scotland. And that’s also where the displayed prototype comes from.

In addition, a prototype of a test mass suspension will be shown the way it will soon be installed in the next generation of American gravitational wave detectors (Advanced LIGO). The 2 m high multiple pendulum suspension will play an important role in increasing LIGO’s measuring precision because it decouples the test mass considerably better from seismic disturbances than the predecessor model. This allows for more precise measurements by the laser interferometer. The scientists working on the project consider disturbances in this connection as even the most miniscule tremors, for example a car driving by miles and miles away or an earthquake in Japan. The multiple pendulum suspension was developed at the GEO600 detector under the direction of the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory.

The measurement of gravitational waves - and thus gravitational physics - is one of the key features of the fascinating special exhibition Cosmos & Culture in the Science Museum London. The exhibition will open on 23 July and run until the end of 2010.

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