A proposed space mission to detect gravitational waves would split atoms to search for minute acceleration changes caused by passing space-time ripples. In this artist's illustration, the red line represents a laser beam connecting the two spacecraft, and the white stars represent the atom interferometers.
The existence of gravitational waves, or ripples in space and time, has long been predicted, but the elusive phenomenon has eluded scientists for decades. Now researchers are proposing a new method to detect these cosmic wrinkles that relies on the quantum nature of atoms.
Gravitational waves are a consequence of Einstein's general theory of relativity, which posits that massive objects warp the space-time around them, causing other objects, and even light, to travel along curved paths when they pass nearby. Objects with very strong gravitational fields, such as black holes or dense stars orbiting in binary pairs, should create gravitational waves so powerful they are detectable here on Earth.
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