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

Photogallery South Africa Bans Travelers From Ebola-stricken Countries

South Africans returning from affected West African countries will be thoroughly screened, required to fill out medical questionnaire, health minister says More

Multimedia UN Launches ‘Biggest Aid Operation in 30 Years’ in Iraq

Move aims to help thousands of Iraqi religious minorities who fled their homes as Kurdish, Iraqi government forces battle Sunni insurgents More

Video African Media Tries to Educate Public About Ebola

IT specialists, together with radio and TV reporters, are battling misinformation and prejudice about disease More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Gaza Conflict, Hamas Popularity Challenge Abbasi
X
Scott Stearns
August 21, 2014 9:20 PM
The Palestinian unity government of Mahmoud Abbas has failed to convince Hamas to agree to Egyptian-negotiated terms with Israel on a Gaza cease-fire. VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports on what the Gaza conflict means for President Abbas, with whom U.S. officials have worked for years on a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Video

Video Gaza Conflict, Hamas Popularity Challenge Abbas

The Palestinian unity government of Mahmoud Abbas has failed to convince Hamas to agree to Egyptian-negotiated terms with Israel on a Gaza cease-fire. VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports on what the Gaza conflict means for President Abbas, with whom U.S. officials have worked for years on a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Video

Video Nigeria's 'Nollywood' Movie Industry Rolls in High Gear

Twenty years after its birth in a video shop in Lagos, Nigeria's "Nollywood" is one of the most prolific film industries on earth. Despite low budgets and whirlwind production schedules, Nigerian films are wildly popular in Africa and industry professionals say they hope, in the future, their films will be as great in quality as they are in quantity. Heather Murdock has more for VOA from Lagos.
Video

Video UN Launches 'Biggest Aid Operation in 30 Years' in Iraq

The United Nations has launched what it describes as one of the biggest aid operations in 30 years in northern Iraq, as hundreds of thousands of refugees flee the extremist Sunni militant group calling itself the Islamic State. As Kurdish and Iraqi forces battle the Sunni insurgents, the fighting has forced more people to flee their homes. Kurdish authorities say the international community must act now to avert a humanitarian catastrophe. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.
Video

Video Cambodian American Hip Hop Artist Sings of Personal Struggles

A growing underground movement of Cambodian American hip hop artists is rapping about the struggles of living in urban America. Most, if not all of them, are refugees or children of refugees who came to the United States from Cambodia to escape the Khmer Rouge genocide of the 1970s. Through their music, the artists hope to give voice to immigrants who have been struggling quietly for years. Elizabeth Lee reports from Long Beach, California.
Video

Video African Media Tries to Educate Public About Ebola

While the Ebola epidemic continues to claim lives in West Africa, information technology specialists, together with radio and TV reporters, are battling misinformation and prejudice about the disease - using social media to educate the public about the deadly virus. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Ferguson Calls for Justice as Anger, Violence Grips Community

Violence, anger and frustration continue to grip the small St. Louis suburb of Ferguson, Missouri. Protests broke out after a white police officer fatally shot an unarmed black teenager on August 9. The case has sparked outrage around the nation and prompted the White House to send U.S. Attorney Eric Holder to the small community of just over 20,000 people. VOA’s Mary Alice Salinas has more from Ferguson.
Video

Video Beheading Of US Journalist Breeds Outrage

U.S. and British authorities have launched an investigation into an Islamic State video showing the beheading of kidnapped American journalist James Foley by a militant with a British accent. The extremist group, which posted the video on the Internet Tuesday, said the murder was revenge for U.S. airstrikes on militant positions in Iraq - and has threatened to execute another American journalist it is holding. Henry Ridgwell has more from London.
Video

Video Family Robots - The Next Big Thing?

Robots that can help us with daily chores like cooking and cleaning are a long way off, but automatons that serve as family companions may be much closer. Researchers in the United States, France, Japan and other countries are racing to build robots that can entertain and perform some simpler tasks for us. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video In Ukraine, Fear and Distrust Remain Where Fighting has Stopped

As the Ukrainian military reclaims control of eastern cities from pro-Russian separatists, residents are getting a chance to rebuild their lives. VOA's Gabe Joselow reports from the town of Kramatorsk in Donetsk province, where a sense of fear is still in the air, and distrust of the government in Kyiv still runs deep.
Video

Video Five Patients Given Experimental Ebola Drug Said to Be Improving

The World Health Organization has approved the use of experimental treatments for Ebola patients in West Africa. The Ebola outbreak there is unprecedented, the disease deadly. The number of people who have died from Ebola has surpassed 1,200. VOA's Carol Pearson reports on the ethical considerations of allowing experimental drugs to be used.
Video

Video China Targets Overseas Assets of Corrupt Officials

As China presses forward with its anti-graft effort, authorities are targeting corrupt officials who have sent family members and assets overseas. The efforts have stirred up a debate at home on exactly how many officials take that route and how likely it is they will be caught. Rebecca Valli has this report.
Video

Video Leading The Fight Against Islamic State, Kurds Question Iraqi Future

Western countries including the United States have begun arming the Kurdish Peshmerga forces in northern Iraq to aid their battle against extremist Sunni militants from the Islamic State. But there are concerns that a heavily-armed Kurdistan Regional Government, or KRG, might seek to declare independence and cause the break-up of the Iraqi state. As Henry Ridgwell reports from London, the KRG says it will only seek greater autonomy from Baghdad.
Video

Video In Rural Kenya, Pressure Builds Against Female Circumcision

In some Kenyan communities, female genital mutilation remains a rite of passage. But activists are pushing back, with education for girls and with threats of punishment those who perform the circumcision. Mohammed Yusuf looks at the practice in the rural eastern community of Tharaka-Nithi.

AppleAndroid