News / Science & Technology

    Distant Pulsar Lends New Support for Einstein’s Relativity Theory

    Rick Pantaleo
    A recent study is providing new support  for a theory that many scientists consider to be one of the two major pillars of modern physics - Albert Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity.

    It seems there are always members of the scientific community who are eager for the chance to knock the air out of Albert Einstein's nearly 100 year-old General Theory of Relativity. This milestone work describes how the elemental force of gravity helps to shape the geometry of space and time. And some of its predictions - involving phenomena like the dilation of time, the motion of bodies in free fall and the gravitational bending of light - are mind-bendingly different than those of classical physics.     

    But, despite decades of assaults, Einstein’s famous hypothesis keeps coming out on top, passing every test it’s subjected to, including a recent examination that some scientists called one of its most stringent tests ever.
     
    The test was conducted by a group of astronomers and physicists using a unique cosmic laboratory, created by the discovery of a rare celestial circumstance - a rotating neutron star, or pulsar, tightly orbiting a white dwarf star nearly 7,000 light-years from Earth.  

    Scientists say that the pulsar, weighing twice as much as our Sun, is the most massive neutron star ever identified, with a gravitational field more than 300 billion times stronger than that on Earth.

    "They’re [pulsars] very, very close to being black holes. And that’s actually one of the very special things about this system is that this pulsar, this neutron star, is one of the most massive neutron stars we’ve ever seen, which means that it has incredibly strong gravity. It’s in orbit around a white dwarf which is much less massive,” said Dr. Scott Ransom, who is with the National Radio Astronomy Observatory, which first spotted the pulsar system.

    The massive pulsar and its white dwarf companion were discovered with the Observatory’s Green Bank Radio Telescope in West Virginia.

    Researchers from Germany’s Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy led the study, which combined data gathered by other radio and optical telescopes around the world.                                                                                                                                                                                                                      
    Some of the researchers initially believed that their observations would prove Einstein's theory wrong.

    But guess what? Ransom says their research found new evidence in the pulsar system’s massive gravitational field to support Einstein's predictions.

    “Einstein’s Theory of Relativity and most of the related classes of gravity theories as well, suggest that those systems that are orbiting very, very compactly like that will give off what’s known as gravitational radiation.  Basically, they cause ripples in space-time and those ripples in space-time, those waves take away some energy from the orbit; so the orbit should be shrinking with time and getting smaller,” Ransom said.  

    And evidently those orbits are getting smaller. Paulo Freire, a scientist at the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy and a member of the study’s research team, said that their radio observations of this odd binary system were so precise that they were able to measure a change in the system’s orbital period of 8 millionths of a second per year, which is exactly what Einstein predicts in his theory.
     
    As Albert Einstein’s Theory of General Relativity approaches its centennial year, new challenges abound.   Relativity is often at odds with the second pillar of modern physics - quantum mechanics - which focuses on atomic and sub-atomic particles.  Does Dr. Ransom think there are many scientists who are still eager to prove the famous theoretical physicist wrong?

    “In a way, yes, because we know that general relativity doesn’t mesh with quantum mechanics.  They don’t work together.  But every test that we’ve thrown at general relativity, it seems to have passed with flying colors.  So, if anyone does figure out where it eventually breaks down and how to mesh it with quantum mechanics, they’ll certainly be getting the Nobel Prize, because it’ll be a revolutionary discovery,” Ransom said.

    Many scientists believe that Einstein's model of gravity and space-time will sooner or later be proved invalid under extreme conditions.   And physicists are hoping that they will someday find an alternative description of gravity that can mesh both relativity and quantum physics and finally explain what now seem to be incompatibilities.

    Ransom and his colleagues reported the results of their study in a recent edition of the journal Science.

    You May Like

    US, Somalia Launch New Chapter in Relations

    US sends first ambassador to Somalia in 25 years; diplomatic presence and forces pulled out in 1993, after 18 US soldiers were killed when militiamen shot down military helicopter

    Brexit Vote Ripples Across South Asia

    Experts say exit is likely to have far-reaching economic, political and social implications for a region with deep historic ties to Britain

    Russian Military Tests Readiness With Snap Inspections

    Some observers see surprise drill as tit-for-tat response to NATO’s recent multinational military exercises in Baltic region

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Testing Bamboo as Building Materiali
    X
    June 27, 2016 9:06 PM
    For thousands of years various species of bamboo - one of the world's most versatile plants - have been used for diverse purposes ranging from food and medicine to textiles and construction. But its use on a large scale is hampered because it's not manufactured to specific standards but grown in the ground. A University of Pittsburgh professor is on track to changing that. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Testing Bamboo as Building Material

    For thousands of years various species of bamboo - one of the world's most versatile plants - have been used for diverse purposes ranging from food and medicine to textiles and construction. But its use on a large scale is hampered because it's not manufactured to specific standards but grown in the ground. A University of Pittsburgh professor is on track to changing that. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Orphanage in Iraqi City Houses Kids Who Lost their Parents to Attacks by IS

    An orphanage in Iraqi Kurdistan has become home to scores of Yazidi children who lost their parents after Islamic State militants took over Sinjar in Iraq’s Nineveh Province in 2014. Iraqi Kurdish forces backed by the U.S. airstrikes have since recaptured Sinjar but the need for the care provided by the orphanage continues. VOA’s Kawa Omar filed this report narrated by Rob Raffaele.
    Video

    Video Re-Opening Old Wounds in a Bullet-Riddled Cultural Landmark

    A cultural landmark before Lebanon’s civil war transformed it into a nest of snipers, Beirut’s ‘Yellow House’ is once again set to play a crucial role in the city.  Built in a neo-Ottoman style in the 1920s, in September it is set to be re-opened as a ‘memory museum’ - its bullet-riddled walls and bunkered positions overlooking the city’s notorious ‘Green Line’ maintained for posterity. John Owens reports from Beirut.
    Video

    Video Brexit Resounds in US Presidential Contest

    Britain’s decision to leave the European Union is resounding in America’s presidential race. As VOA’s Michael Bowman reports, Republican presumptive nominee Donald Trump sees Britain’s move as an affirmation of his campaign’s core messages, while Democrat Hillary Clinton sees the episode as further evidence that Trump is unfit to be president.
    Video

    Video New York Pride March A Celebration of Life, Mourning of Loss

    At this year’s march in New York marking the end of pride week, a record-breaking crowd of LGBT activists and allies marched down Manhattan's Fifth Avenue, in what will be long remembered as a powerful display of solidarity and remembrance for the 49 victims killed two weeks ago in an Orlando gay nightclub.
    Video

    Video NASA Juno Spacecraft, Nearing Jupiter, to Shed Light on Gas Giant

    After a five-year journey, the spacecraft Juno is nearing its destination, the giant planet Jupiter, where it will enter orbit and start sending data back July 4th. As Mike O'Sullivan reports from Pasadena, California, the craft will pierce the veil of Jupiter's dense cloud cover to reveal its mysteries.
    Video

    Video Orlando Shooting Changes Debate on Gun Control

    It’s been nearly two weeks since the largest mass shooting ever in the United States. Despite public calls for tighter gun control laws, Congress is at an impasse. Democratic lawmakers resorted to a 1960s civil rights tactic to portray their frustration. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti explains how the Orlando, Florida shooting is changing the debate.
    Video

    Video Tunisian Fishing Town Searches for Jobs, Local Development Solutions

    As the European Union tries to come to grips with its migrant crisis, some newcomers are leaving voluntarily. But those returning to their home countries face an uncertain future.  Five years after Tunisia's revolution, the tiny North African country is struggling with unrest, soaring unemployment and plummeting growth. From the southern Tunisian fishing town of Zarzis, Lisa Bryant takes a look for VOA at a search for local solutions.
    Video

    Video 'American Troops' in Russia Despite Tensions

    Historic battle re-enactment is a niche hobby with a fair number of adherents in Russia where past military victories are played-up by the Kremlin as a show of national strength. But, one group of World War II re-enactors in Moscow has the rare distinction of choosing to play western ally troops. VOA's Daniel Schearf explains.
    Video

    Video Muslim American Mayor Calls for Tolerance

    Syrian-born Mohamed Khairullah describes himself as "an American mayor who happens to be Muslim." As the three-term mayor of Prospect Park, New Jersey, he believes his town of 6,000 is an example of how ethnicity and religious beliefs should not determine a community's leadership. Ramon Taylor has this report from Prospect Park.
    Video

    Video Internal Rifts Over Syria Policy Could Be Headache for Next US President

    With the Obama administration showing little outward enthusiasm for adopting a more robust Syria policy, there is a strong likelihood that the internal discontent expressed by State Department employees will roll over to the next administration. VOA State Department correspondent Pam Dockins reports.
    Video

    Video Senegal to Park Colorful ‘Cars Rapides’ Permanently

    Brightly painted cars rapide are a hallmark of Dakar, offering residents a cheap way to get around the capital city since 1976. But the privately owned minibuses are scheduled to be parked for good in late 2018, as Ricci Shryock reports for VOA.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora