Spacecraft to measure Earth’s drag on space-time

As readers of my blog know, lately I’ve been reading Stephen Hawkings’ book, The Universe in a Nutshell. That’s why I was particularly interested in this NASA project which although it has had funding since 1964 is soon to lift-off.

Awaiting the right conditions and containing the world’s most accurate gyroscopes, Gravity Probe B is set to test Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity. The experiment aims to measure a weaker and even stranger effect called “frame dragging”, a warping of space-time by the gravity and angular momentum of a spinning body.

In principle, it is possible to measure [frame dragging] by monitoring the spin axis of a gyroscope orbiting the Earth. The axis should change its orientation relative to that of a distant star.

Once we can measure the effect in the Solar System, says Kip Thorne, a gravitational physicist at the California Institute of Technology, “we can definitely understand how the same phenomena are working in the distant Universe and around black holes,” which cause much stronger warping.

I can’t say for sure what exactly this project will do for the average Joe, but here is an impressive list of previous NASA spinoff technologies.

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