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Gravitational wave mission detects rain of interplanetary dust

17 May 2019, 12:46 UTC
Gravitational wave mission detects rain of interplanetary dust
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From its orbital worksite 1.5 million kilometres from Earth, the LISA Pathfinder mission has been putting the technology required to build a space-based gravitational wave detector through its paces. In a new study, made using information collected from the satellite, scientists involved in the mission have shown that it can also shed light on another enigmatic astronomical target: interplanetary dust.
By examining data from the spacecraft’s on-board systems, the researchers have been able to pinpoint more than fifty separate instances where LISA Pathfinder “felt” a miniscule jolt as it was hit by a wandering grain of cosmic dust. Through analysis of the collisions, the scientists have even been able to work out the direction on the sky where the dust came from and so uncover clues about the origin of these tiny flecks of Solar System detritus.
The European-led LISA Pathfinder project was launched in 2015 as a test bed for projects like the Laser Interferometer Space Antenna mission, LISA, which is due to lift off in 2034. Once established in orbit, LISA will look for the ripples in the fabric of space–time that propagate across the cosmos when black holes or neutron stars collide. “[LISA] will detect passing gravitational ...

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