Utah wants the California Institute of Technology to locate a giant gravitational wave observatory in the western desert that could provide a missing component to the theory of relativity.

State science adviser Randy Moon told the Resources Development Coordinating Committee that Gov. Norm Bangerter has signed a letter of intent to locate the project on nine square miles of flatlands near Skull Valley in Tooele County.Utah is one of some 20 states, divided about evenly between the East and West, seeking the experiment. Two observatories, one at each end of the country would be needed.

The observatories would attempt to prove a portion of Albert Einstein's theory which says that gravitational waves from the interaction of giant objects in space, such as supernovas and black holes, should be detectable on Earth.

The experiment would entail construction of two stainless steel vacuum tubes, each some three miles long, in a "V" configuration. Sensitive equipment would measure how much extraterrestrial gravity bends lasers fired through the tubes.

One portion of Einstein's theory involves the premise that light is subject to gravitational pull.

The Utah readings would be calibrated with readings from a similar project on the east coast.

Bangerter's letter of intent said the state, if selected, would "facilitate the transfer of public land, assist with the environmental analysis and will aid . . . in obtaining the necessary state permits and licenses."