Einstein Was RIGHT: His Theory of Gravity Passed the Toughest Test to Date


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Albert Einstein's theory of general relativity has passed its toughest test to date after scientists showed and explained gravity works as expected – even at immense scales. Some physicists had argued the German- born academic's idea that all falling objects accelerate identically would not apply in regions under extreme gravitational forces.

However, scientists studying a trio of stars 4,200 light years from Earth – one of which exerts a gravitational pull two billion times stronger than that on Earth – found the system's phenomenal forces had almost no effect on the acceleration of each star.

This means Einstein's theory once again holds true, while a number of alternative models of the universe, including some versions of string theory, are now ruled out.

 Einstein's theory of relativity has passed its toughest test to date after scientists showed gravity works as expected at the biggest scales. Experts studied a three-star system with a neutron star (left) and a white dwarf (centre) that orbited a second white dwarf (right)
Experts studied a three-star system with a neutron star (left) and a white dwarf (center) that orbited a second white dwarf (right)

Einstein's famous theory, penned in 1915, states that all objects fall the same way regardless of their mass or makeup.

It's the reason a cannonball and apple simultaneously dropped from the top of a skyscraper will always hit the ground at the same time.

But while this model proves correct in many situations - including here on Earth - scientists did not know if it would hold true in the cosmos. Some physicists predicted alternative theories of gravity would apply under these extreme forces.

To test the theory, an international team of scientists took readings of a distant three-star system known as PSR J0337+1715, which is made up of two white dwarfs and a neutron star.

'This is a unique star system,' said Ryan Lynch of the Green Bank Observatory in West Virginia, and coauthor on the paper. 'We don't know of any others quite like it. That makes it a one-of-a-kind laboratory for putting Einstein's theories to the test.'

White dwarfs are incredibly dense: While they are similar in size to Earth, their mass is comparable to that of the sun, making their gravitational pull incredibly strong.

Neutron stars are even smaller and denser than white dwarfs, comprising a sphere about the size of Amsterdam with a mass one and a half times that of the sun.

They are made from collapsed cores of stars that have undergone supernova explosions and are the densest stars in the universe, with some speculating their gravitational pull is two billion times stronger than that seen on Earth.  Many spinning neutron stars are so-called pulsars that send regular lighthouse-like electromagnetic signals out through space which can be captured by radio telescopes on Earth.

White dwarfs are incredibly dense: While they are similar in size to Earth, their mass is comparable to that of the sun, making their gravitational pull incredibly strong. Neutron stars are even smaller and denser than white dwarfs
White dwarfs are incredibly dense: While they are similar in size to Earth, their mass is comparable to that of the sun, making their gravitational pull incredibly strong. Neutron stars are even smaller and denser than white dwarfs

 In the new study, an international team of scientists took readings of a distant three-star system known as PSR J0337+1715, which is made up of two white (white) dwarfs and a neutron star (blue) and sits 4,200 light years from Earth
In the new study, an international team of scientists took readings of a distant three-star system known as PSR J0337+1715, which is made up of two white (white) dwarfs and a neutron star (blue) and sits 4,200 light years from Earth

The team of astronomers tracked PSR J0337+1715's neutron star for six years using the Westerbork Synthesis Radio Telescope in the Netherlands, the Green Bank Telescope in West Virginia and the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico.

In the three-star system, the neutron star is in a 1.6-day orbit with one white dwarf, and the second white dwarf orbits this pair once every 327 days.

By tracking the inner pair of stars through the course of several orbits of the outer white dwarf, scientists could measure whether the pulsar and inner white dwarf were affected differently by the gravity of the outer white dwarf.

Over time, the researchers found almost no detectable difference, meaning that each object accelerated at the same rate – even under extreme gravitational forces. This means the two inner stars 'fall' toward the outer white dwarf at the exact same rate in the same way as the apple and cannonball described earlier, proving Einstein's theory to be true.

'This research shows how routine and careful observation of distant stars can give us a high-precision test of one of the fundamental theories of physics,' said study coauthor Professor Ingrid Stairs, a physicist at the University of British Colombia in Vancouver, Canada.

Researchers said that attempts to disprove Einstein's theory are often driven by a desire to fill in the gaps left by the physicist's 20th century models. But while his theory of relativity might not explain dark matter or quantum physics, it holds up to scrutiny time and time again.

'Every single time we've tested Einstein's theory of relativity so far, the results have been consistent,' said Professor Stairs. 'But we keep looking for departures from relativity because that might help us understand how to describe gravity and quantum mechanics with the same mathematical language.'


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