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

Republican Majority in Congress Off to Rough Start

Standoff over Homeland Security funding exposes philosophical, tactical problems within party More

Pakistan Blocks Baloch Activist from US Trip

Human Rights Commission of Pakistan slams Islamabad officials for stopping people from leaving country to attend human rights conference More

Video Muslims Long Thrived in North Carolina Before Students Killed

Idyll shattered February 10, when three Muslim university students living in Chapel Hill were gunned down by a neighbor More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Sierra Leone Ebola Orphans Face Another Crisisi
X
March 06, 2015 12:28 AM
There's growing concern about the future of an orphanage run by a British charity in Sierra Leone, after a staff member and his wife died this week from Ebola. The Saint George Foundation Orphanage in Freetown is now in quarantine, with more than 20 children and seven staff in lock-down. The BBC has agreed to share Ebola-related material with Voice of America because of the difficulties faced by media organizations reporting the crisis. Clive Myrie reports from Sierra Leone.
Video

Video Sierra Leone Ebola Orphans Face Another Crisis

There's growing concern about the future of an orphanage run by a British charity in Sierra Leone, after a staff member and his wife died this week from Ebola. The Saint George Foundation Orphanage in Freetown is now in quarantine, with more than 20 children and seven staff in lock-down. The BBC has agreed to share Ebola-related material with Voice of America because of the difficulties faced by media organizations reporting the crisis. Clive Myrie reports from Sierra Leone.
Video

Video Growing Concerns Over Whether Myanmar’s Next Elections Will Be Fair

Myanmar has scheduled national elections for November that are also expected to include a landmark referendum on the country's constitution. But there are growing concerns over whether the government is taking the necessary steps to prepare for a free and fair vote. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman was recently in Myanmar and files this report from our Southeast Asia bureau in Bangkok.
Video

Video Nigeria’s Ogonis Divided Over Resuming Oil Production

More than two decades ago, Nigeria’s Ogoni people forced Shell oil company to cease drilling on their land, saying it was polluting the environment. Now, some Ogonis say it’s time for the oil to flow once again. Chris Stein reports from Kegbara Dere, Nigeria.
Video

Video Winter Weather Strikes Eastern US...Again!

A new wintry blast has hit more than 20 states in the U.S. Midwest and Mid-Atlantic region, adding more snow to the piles from previous storms. Tired of shoveling snow, breaking the ice and dealing with accidents, flight delays and property damage, most Americans hope this is the last bout of cold for the season. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Muslims Long Thrived in N Carolina Before Slaying of 3 Students

The killings of three Muslim students in North Carolina early last month came as Muslims across the United States have felt under siege, partly as a result of terrorist attacks being committed internationally in the name of their faith. But Muslims have long thrived in university cities in this part of the American South. VOA's Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Fuel Shortages in Nigeria Threaten Election Campaigns

Nigeria is suffering a gas shortage as the falling oil price has affected the country’s ability to import and distribute refined fuels. Coming just weeks before scheduled March 28 elections, the shortage could have a big impact on the campaign, as Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA.
Video

Video Report: Human Rights in Annexed Crimea Deteriorating

A new report by Freedom House and the Atlantic Council of the United States says the human rights situation in Crimea has deteriorated since the peninsula was annexed by Russia in March of last year. The report says the new authorities in Crimea are discriminating against minorities, suppressing freedom of expression, and forcing residents to assume Russian citizenship or leave. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video 50 Years Later African-Americans See New Voting Rights Battles Ahead

Thousands of people will gather to mark the 50th anniversary of a historic civil rights march on March 7th in Selma, Alabama. In 1965, dozens of people were seriously injured during the event known as “Bloody Sunday,” after police attacked African-American demonstrators demanding voting rights. VOA’s Chris Simkins introduces us to some civil rights pioneers who are still fighting for voting rights in Alabama more than 50 years later.
Video

Video Craft Brewers Taking Hold in US Beer Market

Since the 1950’s, the U.S. beer industry has been dominated by a handful of huge breweries. But in recent years, the rapid rise of small craft breweries has changed the American market and, arguably, the way people drink beer. VOA’s Jeff Custer reports.
Video

Video Video Claims to Show Shia Forces in Iraq Executing Sunni Boy

A graphic mobile phone video is spreading on the Internet, claiming to show Iraqi forces or Shia militia executing a handcuffed Sunni boy. Experts have yet to verify the video, but already Islamic State followers are publicizing it across social media, playing on deep-rooted sectarian fears. VOA’s Jeff Seldin reports.
Video

Video Ukrainian Authorities Struggle to Secure a Divided Mariupol

Since last month's cease-fire went into effect, shelling around the port city of Mariupol has decreased, but it is thought pro-Russian separatists remain poised to attack. For the city’s authorities, a major challenge is gaining the trust of residents, while at the same time rooting out informants who are passing sensitive information to the rebels. Patrick Wells reports for VOA.
Video

Video Myanmar's Traditional Fashion Choices Endure

The sartorial choices of Myanmar’s men and women quickly catch the eye of any visitor to the tropical Southeast Asian country. But at a time when Myanmar’s political and economic opening is bringing affordable western fashions to the masses, will the country’s unique fashion trends endure? VOA Correspondent Steve Herman in Yangon explores that question.

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More