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Gravitational wave project makes public debut

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Progress on the Tianqin project, a Chinese research project to detect gravitational waves, was revealed to the public on Monday.

The Guangzhou-based Sun Yat-sen University started the Tianqin project in July 2015 and is being led by Luo Jun, a university physicist, who told China Central Television (CCTV) that the project was named after a metaphor.

"If you send three satellites in orbit at a distance of about 100,000 kilometers and connect the three by laser beams, the space formation looks like a harp and when the gravitational waves come, there will be disturbances. The wave was like the hand of God which plucks the string," Luo said.

Research began in a bomb shelter under the Yujia mountain in Central China's Hubei Province. And the research on gravitation commenced in 1983 when Luo first joined the lab in the shelter, the CCTV report said.

Gravitational waves are the ripples in the fabric of space and time caused by some of the most violent and energetic processes in the universe, according to an article released by the US-based Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory (LIGO), which announced in 2016 that it had detected gravitational waves on September 14, 2015.

In the wake of LIGO's historic detection of gravitational waves, a range of Chinese proposals to study the ripples to the next level have attracted fresh attention, nature.com reported in 2016 after the observatory's announcement.

"LIGO's discovery was ground-based while Tianqin will be space-based, which would largely reduce disturbances and pick up a wider range of gravitational radiation," Zhang Baoxin, an expert at China Aviation News, told the Global Times on Monday.

With an estimated cost of 15 billion yuan ($2.3 billion US dollars), Tianqin will be carried out in four stages and the spacecraft could be launched in 15 to 20 years, around the same time as the Taiji, another China's domestic gravitational wave project initiated by the Chinese Academy of Sciences in 2008, would be launched.

The Tianqin team achieved the country's first lunar laser beam to the moon in January 2018, before which China's laser range was only 40,000 kilometers, far from the 100,000-kilometer range required by the Tianqin program, sciencenet.cn reported.

Tu Liangcheng, one of Luo's students, is leading another team developing a system that can precisely sense the Earth's gravity, which can be used in detecting oil and gas resources beneath the soil, CCTV reported.



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