Saturday, September 16, 2006

Gravity Probe B Mission Enters Third Phase

Stanford University
"We are now beginning Phase III—the final phase-of the data analysis—which will last until January-February, 2007. Whereas in Phases I and II the focus was on individual gyro performance, during Phase III, the data from all four gyros will be integrated over the entire experiment. The results of this phase will be both individual and correlated changes in gyro spin axis orientation covering the entire 50-week experimental period for all four gyros. These results will be relative to the position of our guide star, IM Pegasi, which changed continually throughout the experiment. Thus, the final step in the analysis, currently scheduled to occur early in the spring of 2007, will be to combine our gyro spin axis orientation results with data mapping the proper motion of IM Pegasi relative to the unchanging position of a distant quasar. The proper motion of IM Pegasi has been mapped with unprecedented precision using a technique called Very Long Baseline Interferometry (VLBI) by Irwin Shapiro and his team at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA), in collaboration with Norbert Bartel at York University in Toronto and French astronomer Jean-Francois Lestrade"

The Gravity Probe B Mission:

"Gravity Probe B is the relativity gyroscope experiment being developed by NASA and Stanford University to test two extraordinary, unverified predictions of Albert Einstein's general theory of relativity.

The experiment will check, very precisely, tiny changes in the direction of spin of four gyroscopes contained in an Earth satellite orbiting at 400-mile altitude directly over the poles. So free are the gyroscopes from disturbance that they will provide an almost perfect space-time reference system. They will measure how space and time are warped by the presence of the Earth, and, more profoundly, how the Earth's rotation drags space-time around with it. These effects, though small for the Earth, have far-reaching implications for the nature of matter and the structure of the Universe."