Future space missions to distant planets may help humanity not just broaden its knowledge about outer space, but also to better understand the phenomenon known as gravitational waves, Physics World reports citing a new study conducted by a team of Swiss and Danish researchers.
According to the magazine, the scientists explained that such research can be performed by examining radio signals sent by space probes, since gravitational waves can apparently be detected via a "Doppler shift in the transmissions from distant spacecraft."
"When a gravitational wave passes through, it can slightly disturb the radio link by shifting its frequency," said Deniz Soyuer from the University of Zurich. "We can detect the small deviations in the carrier frequency we receive from the spacecraft and deduce that a gravitational wave has passed."
Though other similar "gravitational wave hunts" performed during previous space missions were unsuccessful, the researchers argue that the upcoming missions to Uranus and Neptune, which they hope will launch "around 2030," would afford several opportunities to search for gravitational waves, due to the sheer amount of time it will take for the spacecraft to reach their destination.
"There is one-and-a-half to two months of ideal time in a year to do these kinds of observations when the Earth-Sun-spacecraft angle becomes favourable," Soyuer, the person who led the research effort, explained. "So a 10 year cruise time would yield a total of 10 one-and-a-half-month long observations."
Such an undertaking reportedly won’t require special equipment, as "all missions already have Doppler tracking instruments on them, since that is how you track the spacecraft and also conduct gravitational field measurements of the planetary gravitational fields," Soyuer added.
Laura Nuttall, a gravitational-wave expert from the University of Portsmouth, also remarked that gravitational wave detections may provide a "nice overlap" with LISA, Europe’s "upcoming gravitational-wave mission," the media outlet notes.
"[These missions] are more likely to see different events than LIGO/Virgo are sensitive to as they are probing a different part of the gravitational-wave spectrum," Nutall said. "So just like LISA, [they] would complement LIGO/Virgo."