Today marks the centenary of an experiment which proved Albert Einstein’s theory of general relativity – but what exactly is that theory?
Dr Matthew Bothwell, an astronomer at the University of Cambridge, spoke to Sky News to explain how the theory works and why it’s important.
“I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that Einstein’s general theory of relativity completely revolutionised our understanding of the universe. Nothing about modern cosmology can be understood without the context of Einstein’s theories,” Dr Bothwell added.
Thanks to the experiment 100 years ago today, space itself was no longer thought of as the geometric plane suggested by classical mechanics as formulated by Sir Isaac Newton, thought of like a table necessary to roll a ball over.
Instead, according to Einstein’s theory, space and time were the same thing – a single construct which could be called spacetime.
Gravity was now understood to be a force altering the geometric structure of spacetime itself.
This meant that the light which bent around the sun in the experiment 100 years ago actually had always being going straight, but that the space around the sun itself had been bent.
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Professor Mike Cruise, resident of the Royal Astronomical Society, said: “A century ago astronomers confirmed the general theory of relativity – in the process transforming our understanding of the universe for ever.
“The work of Einstein and Eddington is an amazing example of international collaboration in the aftermath of the first world war, and a visible demonstration of how science can overcome barriers in these turbulent times.”
But even Einstein’s theory of general relativity hasn’t answered all of the universe’s questions – principally because it doesn’t seem to work with quantum mechanics.
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