November 30 : hangout live from the launchpad in Kourou

Pierre Binétruy and Volker Beckman invite you to participate to a hangout live from the Kourou Space Centre in French Guyana, where the LISAPathfinder satellite is waiting on the launchpad. This hangout will take place on November 30, at 17:00 GMT (18:00 Paris time, 14:00 Kourou time) for an hour.

The LISAPathfinder mission will test key technologies for the future gravitational wave observatory planned by the European Space Agency for the 2030s. The launch is scheduled on December 2 at 4:15 GMT.

A rare opportunity to feel the atmosphere of a space centre a few hours before a launch.

Our host for this event will be in Kourou Paul McNamara, ESA, project scientist of the LISAPathfinder mission.

paul_mcnamara“My name is Paul McNamara, and I am the LISA Pathfinder project scientist at the European Space Agency (ESA). I’ve been part of the LISA and LISA Pathfinder project since I started my PhD at the University of Glasgow in 1994. After my PhD,  I continued my research in spaceborne gravitational wave detection, at the University of Glasgow, before moving to the NASA – Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland, USA. This was my first experience of working for a space agency. In 2005, I moved to ESA, where I have been the LISA Pathfinder project scientist ever since.

The project scientist’s job is to manage the scientific exploitation of the mission…to ensure that we get as much science return as possible. I also coordinate the various university teams who will be involved in the data analysis and operations of the science instrument.

In order to fulfil my responsibilities, I need to work closely with the engineering team at ESA,  the operations teams at both the European Space Astronomy Centre (ESAC), and European Space Operations Centre (ESOC), as well as the university groups involved in the mission.”


He will be accompanied by:

César García, ESA, project Manager of the LISAPathfinder mission

cesar_garcia“I am César García. I live in the Netherlands, where I moved from my native country, Spain. By education I am an aeronautical engineer, a space systems engineer and a MBA.

In the Netherlands I work at the European Space Agency as LISA Pathfinder project manager. As project manager, my job is to develop, launch, and perform the in-orbit operations until we have confidence the systems work (we call this in-orbit commissioning); and my responsibility is to do that while meeting the science, planning and budgetary requirements. This involves many people who make all that possible.”

Jon Harr, CNES, the Director of Operations,

Opérationnels à Jupiter 2, pendant chronologie VV05, le 22/06/2015.

“I am the Range Operations Director (DDO is the French Abbreviation) at CNES, which means that I am responsible for the operations conducted on the range to :

– prepare the spacecraft (payload) before its integration on the launcher,

– prepare all the means on the range necessary for launch operations : Security, ground safety, logistics, energy/air-con, telecom, optronics, time synchronization, telemetry (ground stations and real time processing systems), positioning (radars and real time processing systems). The telemetry ground station include several stations world-wide in order to track the launcher.

– finally, during the last part of the launch campaign, the DDO is responsible for the launch operations conducted from the Jupiter 2 control room. The DDO is not responsible for preparing and operating the launcher.”

Vicki Lonnon, Airbus D&S, Quality Insurance Engineer

vicki_lonnon“I’m Vicki Lonnon, from the UK.  I work for Airbus Defence & Space and for the last two and half years I have been the Quality Assurance Engineer for the LISA Pathfinder Spacecraft.  My role is within the Assembly Integration & Test team who are responsible for the putting together the spacecraft, testing it and ensuring that we have met the requirements of our customer, ESA.  As the Quality Assurance Engineer,  I get involved in all the different activities happening on the spacecraft, it is a great mix of hands on work with the flight hardware and office based work such as reviewing/writing procedures in advance of activities.”

Vicki is writing a personal blog on the test and launch campaign here.



The Google Hangout will be streamed live on Google Hangouts and Youtube for approximately 60 minutes, where you can follow the questions and answers live.

Ready for the ride in space

We are now less than 5 days before launch!

Vega_VV06_upper_composite_being_hoisted_up_to_the_top_of_the_mobile_gantryOn Monday November 16, all red tags were removed. The LISAPathfinder satellite and its propulsion module were mounted on the payload adaptor and encapsulated into the fairing. The satellite is no longer visible. The next time it sees light from stars will be 3 minutes and 54 seconds after launch.

Vega_VV06_upper_composite_transferred_to_launcher_assembly_areaOn Wednesday 18, it was transported to the launch pad and on Thursday 19 it was integrated to the launcher, the Vega rocket. Then during several days some electrical connections and battery checks were performed. The AVUM (Attitude Vernier Upper Module – Vega upper stage) is starting to fueling. In parallel, checks and rehearsals are performed in the control room.

The ride to space is ready!

The sequence of LISAPathfinder’s operations is detailed here.


Am I at the centre of the Universe?



Seeing distant objects is looking at their past. I could thus look at the Big Bang by looking far enough, and this in all directions. Doesn’t it mean that I am at the centre of the Universe?




The answer is no. Imagine a point (A) at 14 billion light-years from you (O), which corresponds basically to the Big Bang (left figure below). Then place an observer at point A today (right figure below), what does this observer see? Presumably, exactly the same thing as you.

But that seems impossible, because we (at O) are at a distance of 14 billion light-years from A, and we know that we are not at the Big Bang!


Well, you forgot that we see in time and space. In the left figure (see below), O corresponds to now, and thus A to the Big Bang era. In the right drawing, A is an observer now, and thus it sees the point O at the time of the Big Bang, 14 billion years before we appeared on Earth!


You may note that A sees a similar sky as O, but each star or galaxy is viewed at a different time (depending on the respective distances to A or O).

Google hangout with George Smoot and Pierre Binétruy

Nobel prize winner George Smoot and lead educator Pierre Binétruy will be answering your questions on Thursday November 19 at 17:00 GMT for an hour!

This will be the first of three exciting Google Hangouts being offered on the course Gravity!

Ask your questions!

Whether you follow the course or you are just interested by the physics of the Universe, you will have the opportunity to ask us your questions on general aspects of gravity, but also to interview George on his discovery of the fluctuations in the Cosmic Microwave Background, through a live event called Google+ Hangouts on Air.

This Google Hangout will be streamed live on YouTube and Google+ Hangouts for approximately 60 minutes, where you can follow the questions and answers live.

We encourage you to ask your questions and we’ll select the most popular ones to answer during the Hangout.

There are several ways you can do this:

  • You will be able to send questions and comments before and during the event by submitting them in the Google Hangout Q&A chat window (if you have a Google account).
  • You can send us questions to our Twitter account @Gravity_Paris
  • If you already follow the course Gravity!, you may leave your questions in the discussion of step 3.11.

It is not too late to follow the online course Gravity of FutureLearn. You may register until December 6, but the sooner, the better! After this date, the course will only be accessible to the registered learners. 

Welcome to all Gravity! learners

Welcome to all the learners of the on-line course Gravity on Futurelearn. This web site is meant to be your site.

You will find here all the news about gravity, as well as some of the activities that we will propose in the future. In this way, once you have completed the course, you can use your brand-new knowledge and expertise to know more about gravity, about the Universe and to accompany us in our exciting long-term scientific projects.

For the time being, you can go to the “Gravitational Universe” section where you will find detailed answers to some of the most frequently asked questions in the discussions of Gravity!


Pierre Binétruy, for the Gravity! educator team

70,000 registered students for the online course Gravity!

Already 70 000 registered students! A great success for the first English-speaking online course (MOOC) of Paris Diderot University on the mysteries of gravity: Big Bang, black holes, expansion of the universe …

Classes start on Monday 26 but learners can join until December 6, 2015 on the social learning platform FutureLearn,  the first UK-based provider of massive, open online courses.

Simon Nelson, Chief Executive of FutureLearn said: “I am delighted that Paris Diderot’s first course on FutureLearn has captivated such a large international audience. With nearly 70,000 learners, Gravity! is FutureLearn’s biggest science course to date. It’s my hope that we can continue enable more  French institutions to reach our global community of learners.”

Gravity! is for all those curious about the mysteries of the Universe and invites them to understand, without any prerequisite in physics, the foundations of Einstein’s theory that makes gravity “the engine of the Universe”

The course is free and registration is open to everyone.


See French press release about the success of Mooc Gravity!

Registration to the course Gravity! on Futurelearn begins!

Register to the course Gravity on Futurelearn!


About the course

What is gravity? This fundamental force is the common theme between concepts as intriguing as the Big Bang, black holes, dark energy, space-time, gravitational waves and the expansion of the Universe.If these concepts pique your interest, this free online course is for you. It doesn’t require any background in physics or mathematics, just a simple curiosity about the Universe and our place in it.

Mark the 100th anniversary of Einstein’s theory of relativity

The theory of gravity, Einstein’s theory of relativity, was published exactly 100 years ago. This course presents in a simple manner the main ideas behind this theory, before explaining why “gravity is the engine of the Universe.”

The basic notions are then introduced to understand why the Universe is in expansion. We’ll find out:

• why the further you look, the more distant in the past you look;
• how we can tell what happened just after the Big Bang;
• what are the dark components of the Universe;
• why are we so impatiently expecting the discovery of gravitational waves;
• and what happens when you cross the horizon of a black hole.

Learn with experts including a Nobel Prize-winning physicist

Over six weeks, you’ll learn with Pierre Binétruy, the Director of the Paris Centre for Cosmological Physics at Paris Diderot University, as well as the cosmologist, George Smoot, who will explain the discovery that earned him the Nobel Prize for Physics in 2006.

The success certificates for the French version of the MOOC Gravité! are now being delivered. Congratulations to all!

The final numbers are now available from the FUN platform: 5675 registered learners, and 1291 certificates of success delivered, that is 23%. If one compares with those who completed the first week (2364), the success rate raises to 55%. An amazing number when one realizes that, in a typical MOOC, it is expected that only 10% learners get to the end. Congratulations to all for their participation!

See the page of the french MOOC Gravité!

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