A step closer to finding gravitational waves: European probe searching for ripples in space time achieves freefall record

Mail Online | 6/7/2016 | Richard Gray for MailOnline
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Orbiting more than a million miles from Earth, a van-sized spacecraft searching for tiny ripples in the fabric of space time has set a new record.

The European Space Agency's Laser Interferometre Space Antenna (Lisa) Pathfinder mission has set two small cubes of precious metal into the truest 'freefall' ever achieved.

The probe is designed to prove that it will be possible to measure the minute perturbations in space and time caused by gravitational waves as they billow out from colliding black holes.

It promises to usher in an entirely new era of astronomy by allowing scientists to use these weak signals to see previously invisible objects, such as black holes and dark matter, in deep space.

LISA Pathfinder will blaze the trail for a far more ambitious project to build a space observatory that will search for gravitational waves over huge distances.

The mission comes just four months since scientists announced the first detection of gravitational waves, predicted by Albert Einstein 100 years ago, using two massive detectors based on Earth.

These picked up the faint disturbances in space time caused by two enormous black holes colliding with each other more than 1.3 billion light years away.

But physicists are hoping that by building a gravitational waves observatory in space that will be able to detect these signals with far more sensitivity.

Lisa Pathfinder, which launched in December last year, will spend six months testing an approach they hope will allow them to do this.

The spacecraft is carrying two gold and platinum alloy cubes at its heart which have been released into a vacuum to float freely inside its experimental chamber.

Here they are isolated from all external and internal forces – a state known as freefall.

It means the cubes – each weighting 4.4lbs (2kg) and measuring 1.8 inches (4.6cm) wide - will only move in relation...
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