The ongoing China-led international collaboration project Tianqin, a space-based gravitational wave detection system scheduled to be completed by 2035, is expected to significantly improve understanding of major cosmic phenomena, including black holes, scientists said.
Tianqin uses the Chinese words tian, meaning sky or heavens, and qin, meaning stringed musical instrument.
It will consist of three satellites forming an equilateral triangle around Earth at an orbit of 100,000 kilometers.
Tianqin will work to detect gravitational waves, which scientists theorize are ripples in the fabric of space-time caused by violent cosmic events, such as colliding black holes, supernovas and even the birth of the universe.
“Once completed, Tianqin will become an important tool to search for and detect black holes of all sizes and wavelengths in the next two decades,” Wu Qingwen, a professor at the School of Physics of Huazhong University of Science and Technology in Wuhan, Hubei province, said on Thursday.
On Wednesday, the Event Horizon Telescope, a global array of eight ground-based radio telescopes, revealed the first-ever image of a black hole.
Wu was one of the more than 200 astronomers worldwide involved in the EHT collaboration, which captured the first visible representation of what are considered the most extreme objects in the universe.
International collaboration is vital for astronomical observations, Wu said.
Besides the successful capture of the first black hole image, two earlier detections of gravitational waves from black hole mergers also were products of international collaboration.
In February 2016, the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory in the United States announced the first observation of gravitational waves generated by a black hole merger. The following June, it announced the second detection of a gravitational wave event from colliding black holes.
Wu said Tianqin has potential for even greater discoveries.
“LIGO used interferometers on the ground with an arm length of 4 km. But with satellites, the arm length will increase to 170,000 km. So the space-based probes (enabled by Tianqin) will be able to detect gravitational waves at much lower frequencies generated by the merging of massive or supermassive black holes,” he said.
“It will also enable us to see the smaller black holes during the infancy of the universe, as well as understand the history of black hole growth and the evolution of galaxies,” he said.