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China science

Three gravitational wave projects unveiled in China, ranging from Tibet to outer space

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 17 February, 2016, 1:22pm
UPDATED : Friday, 05 August, 2016, 4:59pm

Chinese scientists have unveiled three separate projects to investigate gravitational waves, state media said Wednesday, days after earthshaking US discoveries confirmed Einstein’s century-old predictions.

Space officials said such research would give China - which has an ambitious, military-run, multi-billion-dollar space programme that Beijing sees as symbolising the country’s progress - an opportunity to become a “world leader” in the field.

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Gravitational waves are direct evidence of ripples in the fabric of space-time, and their first-ever observation was announced by US scientists last week.

The Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) rolled out a proposal for a space-based gravitational wave detection project, the official Xinhua news agency reported.

The proposed Taiji programme, named after the “supreme ultimate” of Chinese philosophy symbolised by the yin-yang sign, would send satellites of its own into orbit or share equipment with the European Space Agency’s eLISA initiative.

The research will focus on low- and medium -frequency gravitational wave signals, Wu Yueliang, a member of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, was quoted as saying. These are different from the kind observed last week in the US.

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“Gravitational waves can be categorised into three types according to their frequency bands,” Wu said.

“Low-frequency gravitational waves come from a larger variety of sources than the other two types, like the merger of binary galaxies or supermassive binary black holes and celestial body explosions. But these sources are yet to be found and this is what we are striving for.”

Separately, Sun Yat-sen University in Guangzhou also proposed to launch satellites into space, while the Institute of High Energy Physics at CAS suggested a land-based scheme in Tibet.

All three projects have yet to obtain government approval, state media said.

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Meanwhile, Xinhua reported yesterday that between 9,000 and 10,000 residents will be uprooted from a part of Guizhou province, known for its scenic karst mountains, to make way for a giant radio telescope that China is building called the Five-hundred-metre aperture spherical telescope (FAST).

Each resident will be compensated to the tune of 12,000 yuan ($1,840) and moved within a 5-kilometre radius, according to the report. The US$185-million project is aimed at detecting radio signals from as far as tens of billions of light years away.

Regarding China’s space -and science -related ambitions, physicist Hu Wenrui told the People’s Daily newspaper, the official mouthpiece of the Communist party: “If we launch our own satellites, we will have a chance to be a world leader” in gravitational wave research.

Success “depends on the decision-makers’ resolution and the country’s investment”, he added.

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On a verified social media account, the Chinese Academy of Science said: “If we can participate in these sorts of extremely precise technological projects then in a short time it will give a huge boost to our country’s manufacturing industries.”

Last week, scientists with the US-based Large Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) said they had detected waves resulting from the collision of two black holes 1.3 billion years ago.

The executive director of the laboratory hailed the discovery as being comparable to Galileo’s use of the telescope four centuries ago to open the era of modern astronomy.