Universität Hamburg participates in the development of the observatory ’LISA’

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The distance between the three ’LISA’satellites will be 2.5 million
The distance between the three ’LISA’satellites will be 2.5 million kilometers. When gravitational waves travel through the universe, their distance from each other changes. Photo: NASA

The planning phase of the innovative space observatory -LISA- has been successfully completed. The implementation phase of the major international project, in which three working groups at the University of Hamburg are involved, has now begun. The Cluster of Excellence -Quantum Universe- is a central research focus of the University in the field of astrophysics and particle physics.

The space observatory - LISA - is a mammoth project of the European Space Agency (ESA) in collaboration with the American space agency NASA. From the mid-2030s, the innovative measuring device will be used to detect gravitational waves in the previously unexplored frequency range between 0.1 millihertz and one hertz.

Gravitational waves are distortions in the fabric of space-time that propagate at the speed of light. Gravitational waves in the low frequency range are created, for example, when supermassive black holes, which are several million times heavier than our sun, merge. They cannot be detected from Earth because environmental influences such as seismic activity or local vibrations interfere. This is why -LISA- will operate in space. The observatory will consist of three identical satellites. When gravitational waves travel through the universe, their distance from each other changes. These changes will be measured by -LISA-.

--LISA- will be one of the largest and most exciting measuring instruments ever built by mankind and will most likely provide us with groundbreaking new insights into the structure and formation of the universe," explains Oliver Gerberding, senior scientist at Universität Hamburg’s Quantum Universe Cluster of Excellence. Together with his team and in cooperation with the Deutsches Elektronen-Synchrotron DESY, the research group leader is developing measurement systems for gravitational wave detection.

-The completion of the planning phase is an important milestone for the project. The ESA has reviewed the entire concept - from the definition of the overall mission to the hardware that still needs to be built. It then confirmed that the implementation phase can begin. This means that from now on, construction will actually begin," says Thomas Kupfer, who also conducts research at the Quantum Universe Cluster of Excellence at the University of Hamburg. His working group deals with binary star systems that can be measured using both electromagnetic waves and gravitational waves in the LISA frequency range. Research into binary stars is intended to provide information about the development and fate of stars.

A third working group led by Géraldine Servant, deputy spokesperson of the Cluster of Excellence -Quantum Universe-, is researching so-called primordial gravitational waves. These were created shortly after the Big Bang. -The new observatory will be particularly sensitive to gravitational waves that were emitted in the early phase of the universe. Thus -LISA- opens up completely new possibilities for physics research, which could allow us to study the very high energy scales that dominated the universe less than a nanosecond after the Big Bang," says Prof. Servant.

A large number of institutions and research facilities worldwide work together in the international -LISA consortium. The University of Excellence Hamburg and DESY have greatly expanded their participation in -LISA- with the Cluster of Excellence -Quantum Universe- in recent years, making Hamburg an important center for the development and scientific use of -LISA-.