Glasgow scientists hope to prove Einstein theory

EQUIPMENT built by Glasgow scientists will be launched into space next month in a bid to study one of Einstein’s most famous theories.

The LISA pathfinder spacecraft. Picture: European Space Agency and ATG medialab

A spacecraft, containing an ‘optical bench’ built by a team from the University of Glasgow, will blast off from South America on Wednesday.

The equipment, which will travel on the European Space Agency’s LISA Pathfinder spacecraft, is the result of a decade of work by the team.

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Scientists say the project will study ripples in the curvature of spacetime caused by extreme astronomical events - such as the merging of super-massive black holes.

An artist impression of of the LISA Pathfinder

The existence of these ripples, known as gravitational waves, was predicted by Einstein’s Theory of General Relativity.

Experts hope to detect the ripples by sending three satellites into the vacuum of space.

Pathfinder will blast off from the Guiana Space Centre in Kourou, French Guiana attached to a rocket. The spacecraft will take around eight weeks to reach its operating orbit, around 1.5 million km from earth.

Dr Harry Ward, who leads the University’s LISA Pathfinder team, said: “We’ve been involved in gravitational wave research for the better part of a half-century now, and we’ve already made important contributions to Earthbound detectors such as LIGO in the US and GEO600 in Germany.

The pathfinder interferometer. Picture: European Space Agency and ATG medialab

“For the last decade, we’ve been working very hard on LISA Pathfinder, which is a tremendously exciting project involving researchers from all over Europe. It’s exhilarating and a little bit frightening that we’re finally on the verge of seeing it set off on the mission it was conceived to undertake and I’ll be lucky enough to see it from the launch site in Kourou.

“The launch of the LISA Pathfinder is a major milestone, not just for us and the European Space Agency’s other partners, but for developing further our understanding of the Universe.

“Although this mission won’t be looking directly for evidence of gravitational waves, it’s a vitally important step towards the ESA’s eLISA project, which will place two detectors in space some millions of kilometres apart and will allow us a research opportunity which is totally unprecedented in the history of astronomy.

“It’s an exciting time to be working in this field and we’re looking forward to the next stage of the exploration of the gravitational Universe.”