Gravitational waves are out there, but so far their detection has remained tantalizingly out of reach. On the 100th anniversary of Albert Einstein's General Theory of Relativity, the European Space Agency will launch the Laser Interferometer Space Antenna (LISA) Pathfinder spacecraft to detect gravitational waves. LISA Pathfinder will launch from Europe's Spaceport Wednesday at 10:44 p.m. EST.
Einstein posited the existence of gravitational waves, but these ripples in space-time have not been directly observed. The waves are caused by accelerating objects moving around in space. According to Einstein, massive objects warp space-time, causing it to curve. Accelerating objects, or two black holes colliding, would cause gravitational waves to ripple outward.
The LISA Pathfinder is the precursor to ESA's eLISA gravitational wave observatory that will be launched in the 2030s. The spacecraft cannot detect gravitational waves, but will test a popular theory to measure these ripples. The spacecraft doubles as the experiment itself and will be the quietest craft ever launched because even the faintest noise could interfere with the detection of gravitational waves.
In order to get away from any noise or interference from Earth's gravity, LISA Pathfinder will travel to Lagrange point 1 (L1), 1.5 million kilometers (around 1 million miles) from Earth, where the gravitational tug of two objects -- the Earth and sun -- reach an equilibrium. At L1, LISA Pathfinder can stay in a stable orbit; two gold and platinum cubes -- the LISA Technology Package -- are housed inside the spacecraft, flying freely in separate vacuum containers. The interferometer will measure any movements of the two cubes.
A successful LISA Pathfinder mission means it is possible to create a gravitational wave observatory. In the future, three spacecraft, separated by 5 million kilometers, flying in formation and linked by lasers could be used to detect gravitational waves from space.
In 2014, Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics astronomers created a shock wave of their own by claiming the first direct detection of gravitational waves dating to the big bang. Unfortunately, the Nobel Prize-worthy discovery was nothing more than space dust.
You can watch the LISA Pathfinder live stream below.