Radical NASA Study Says This Spacecraft Formation Could Reveal New Physics - Latest Global News

Radical NASA Study Says This Spacecraft Formation Could Reveal New Physics

It’s an exciting time for the fields of astronomy, astrophysics and cosmology. Thanks to state-of-the-art observatories, instruments and new techniques, scientists are getting closer to experimentally testing theories that remain largely untested.

These theories address some of the most pressing questions scientists have about the universe and its underlying physical laws – such as the nature of gravity, dark matter and dark energy. For decades, scientists have postulated that either additional physics is at work or that our prevailing cosmological model needs to be revised.

While research into the existence and nature of dark matter and dark energy is still ongoing, there are also attempts to solve these mysteries through the possible existence of new physics.

In a recent paper, a team of NASA researchers suggested how spacecraft could search for evidence of additional physics in our solar system. This search, they argue, would be aided by the spacecraft flying in a tetrahedral formation and using interferometers. Such a mission could help solve a cosmological mystery that has eluded scientists for over half a century.

The proposal is the work of Slava G. Turyshev, an associate professor of physics and astronomy at the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) and research scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

He was joined by Sheng-wey Chiow, an experimental physicist at NASA JPL, and Nan Yu, an associate professor at the University of South Carolina and senior research scientist at NASA JPL. Her research recently appeared online and was accepted for publication Physical examination D.

Turyshev’s experience includes serving as a member of the Gravity Recovery And Interior Laboratory (GRAIL) missiology team. In previous work, Turyshev and his colleagues have examined how a mission to the Sun’s solar gravitational lens (SGL) could revolutionize astronomy.

The concept paper was awarded a Phase III grant from NASA’s Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) program in 2020. In a previous study, he and SETI astronomer Claudio Maccone also examined how advanced civilizations might use SGLs to transfer energy from one solar system to the next.

To summarize, gravitational lensing is a phenomenon in which gravitational fields change the curvature of spacetime around them. This effect was originally predicted by Einstein in 1916 and used by Arthur Eddington in 1919 to confirm his general theory of relativity (GR).

This sketch shows light paths from a distant galaxy focused by the gravitational lens of a galaxy cluster in the foreground. (NASA/ESA)

But between the 1960s and 1990s, observations of the rotation curves of galaxies and the expansion of the universe led to new theories about the nature of gravity on larger cosmic scales. On the one hand, scientists postulated the existence of dark matter and dark energy to reconcile their observations with GR.

On the other hand, scientists have developed alternative theories of gravity (such as modified Newtonian dynamics (MOND), modified gravity (MOG), etc.). Meanwhile, others have suggested that there may be additional physics in the cosmos that we don’t yet know about. As Turyshev told Universe Today via email:

“We are committed to exploring questions surrounding the mysteries of dark energy and dark matter. Despite their discovery in the last century, the underlying causes are still unclear. If these “anomalies” are due to new physics – phenomena that have yet to be observed in ground-based laboratories or particle accelerators – it is possible that this novel force could manifest itself on a solar system scale.”

For their latest study, Turyshev and his colleagues examined how a series of spacecraft flying in a tetrahedral formation could probe the Sun’s gravitational field.

These investigations, Turyshev said, would look for deviations from the predictions of general relativity at the scale of the solar system, something that has not been possible so far:

“These deviations are believed to manifest as non-zero elements in the gravity gradient tensor (GGT), which is essentially similar to a solution to the Poisson equation.

Due to their minute nature, detecting these deviations requires precision far beyond current capabilities – by at least five orders of magnitude. With such a high level of accuracy, numerous known effects result in significant noise.

The strategy involves making differential measurements to negate the effects of known forces, thereby revealing the subtle but non-zero contributions to the GGT.”

The mission, Turyshev said, would employ local measurement techniques based on an array of interferometers. This includes interferometric laser ranging, a technique demonstrated as part of the GRACE-FO (Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment Follow-On) mission, a pair of spacecraft that rely on laser ranging to map the oceans, glaciers, rivers and surface waters of the world to track Earth.

The same technique is also used to study gravitational waves with the proposed space-based Laser Interferometry Space Antenna (LISA).

The spacecraft will also be equipped with atomic interferometers, which use the wave nature of atoms to measure the phase difference between waves of atomic matter in various ways. This technique will allow the spacecraft to detect the presence of non-gravitational noise (engine activity, solar radiation pressure, thermal recoil forces, etc.) and neutralize it to the extent necessary.

Meanwhile, flying in a tetrahedral formation will optimize the spacecraft’s ability to compare measurements.

“Laser ranging will provide us with high-precision data on the distances and relative velocities between spacecraft,” Turyshev said.

“Furthermore, its exceptional precision will allow us to measure the rotation of a tetrahedral formation relative to an inertial reference frame (via Sagnac observables), a task that cannot be achieved by other means.” Consequently, this will create a tetrahedral formation that is a “Uses a series of local measurements.”

Ultimately, this mission will test GR at the smallest scale, something that has been sorely lacking so far. While scientists continue to study the effect of gravitational fields on space-time, they are largely limited to using galaxies and galaxy clusters as lenses.

Other examples include observations of compact objects (such as white dwarfs) and supermassive black holes (SMBH) such as Sagittarius A* – located at the center of the Milky Way.

“Our goal is to improve the precision of testing GR and alternative gravity theories by more than five orders of magnitude.

Beyond this main objective, our mission pursues additional scientific goals, which we will explain in more detail in our subsequent article. These include, among other things, testing GR and other gravitational theories, detecting gravitational waves in the microhertz range – a spectrum that cannot be reached with existing or planned instruments – and exploring aspects of the solar system, such as the hypothetical Planet 9.”

This article was originally published by Universe Today. Read the original article.

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