• Chinese scientists working on gravitational waves.

Chinese scientists working on gravitational waves. (Photo : Reuters)

Chinese scientists are offering a space gravitational wave detection project that could either become a part of the European Space Agency’s evolved Laser Interferometer Space Antenna (eLISA) project or a parallel project, China Daily reported.

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The discovery of gravitational waves by the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory in the U.S. on Thursday, Feb. 11, has encouraged scientists around the world, including China, to accelerate research. Gravitational waves are tiny ripples in the space-time fabric caused by violent astronomical events.

The report said that a group of scientists from the pre-research group at the Chinese Academy of Sciences will finish drafting a plan for a space gravitational wave detection project by the end of this year and submit it to China's sci-tech authorities for review.

According to the report, the Taiji project has two alternative plans. One is to take a 20-percent share of the European Space Agency's eLISA project, and the other is for China to launch its own satellites by 2033 to validate the European Space Agency (ESA) project.

"Gravitational waves provide us with a new tool to understand the universe, so China has to actively participate in the research," Hu Wenrui, a prominent physicist in China and a member of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, said.

"If we launch our own satellites, we will have a chance to be a world leader in gravitational wave research in the future," Hu added. "If we just participate in the eLISA project, it will also greatly boost China's research capacity in space science and technology. In either case, it depends on the decision-makers' resolution and the country's investment."

The report said that different scenarios will be included in the draft plan, with budgets ranging from 160 million yuan ($24.3 million) to more than 10 billion yuan.

"Although I am not sure which plan the decision-makers will finally choose, I think the minimum budget of 160 million yuan should not be a problem for China," Hu said.

Under a cooperative mission, ESA and NASA launched the Laser Interferometer Space Antenna's gravitational wave observatory to detect and observe gravitational waves. The project was proposed in 1993, which involved three satellites that were arranged in a triangular formation and sent laser beams between each other.

The report said that after NASA withdrew from the project due to a budget shortage in 2011, the LISA project evolved into a condensed version known as eLISA.

On Dec. 2, ESA launched the space probe LISA Pathfinder to validate technologies that could be used in the construction of a full-scale eLISA observatory, scheduled for launch in 2035.

"Currently, all the operating gravitational wave detection experiments worldwide are ground observatories, which can only detect high-frequency gravitational wave signals," said Wu Yueliang, deputy president of the University of the Chinese Academy of Sciences. "A space observatory, without any ground interference or limitation to the length of its detection arms, can spot gravitational waves at lower frequency."

On Feb. 11, gravitational waves caused by two black holes merging about 1.3 billion years ago were detected and confirmed by scientists from the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) in the U.S. The report said it was the first time that the elusive phenomenon was directly detected since it was predicted by Albert Einstein 100 years ago.

Now considered the most advanced ground facility for gravitational research, LIGO includes two gravitational wave detectors located in the rural areas of Washington and Louisiana states in the U.S.

"Metaphorically speaking, if the research into gravitational waves is a symphony, the discovery of the LIGO experiment makes a good prelude by proving that the hypothetical wave does exist," said Hu. "But I believe the other movements will mostly be composed of new discoveries from space observatory devices, because the low and middle band--which can only be detected from space--is the most extensive source of gravitational wave."

The report, however, said that CAS's Taiji project has competitors in China. In July, Sun Yat-sen University in Guangzhou, Guangdong Province, proposed the Tianqin project, which will receive a 300 million yuan startup fund from the local government to initiate a four-step plan to send three satellites in search of gravitational waves and other cosmic mysteries.

Li Miao, director of the Institute of Astronomy and Space Science, said it was still too early to tell the definite direction of the Tianqin project.

"The major gravitational wave research program in China is the cooperation with eLISA, which is led by Professor Hu Wenrui," Li told Guangdong's Nanfang Daily.

"The reason that eLISA made progress rather slowly was that the member states in Europe held different opinions as to whether gravitational waves exist," Li added. "Now this has been proved to be true, which will greatly accelerate the pace of research in and out of China."