Gravitational waves provide a laboratory for general relativity and a window to energetic astrophysical phenomena invisible with electromagnetic radiation. Several terrestrial detectors are currently under construction, and a space-based interferometer is envisioned for launch early next century to detect test-mass motions induced by waves of relatively short wavelength. Very-long-wavelength gravitational waves can be detected using the plasma in the early Universe as test masses; the motion induced in the plasma by a wave is imprinted onto the cosmic microwave background (CMB). While the signature of gravitational waves on the CMB temperature fluctuations is not unique, the polarization pattern can be used to unambiguously detect gravitational radiation. Thus, forthcoming CMB polarization experiments, such as the Microwave Anisotropy Probe and Planck, will be the first space-based gravitational-wave detectors.
- Received 28 July 1998
- Published 24 December 1998
© 1998 The American Physical Society