General Relativity: We Can Believe It, But Never Absolutely

2390 words - 10 pages

Albert Einstein said on his lecture at King’s College in 1921 that “relativity owes its invention entirely to the desire to make physical theory fit observed fact as well as possible”. However, as a matter of fact, most of the theory of relativity is based on gedanken experiments, which are totally done by thinking and impossible to practice. But this is not incompatible with Einstein’s words, because since it was invented, the theory of relativity is being continually proved right by facts. It is generally admitted today. Nevertheless, there are still scientists who doubt the validity of relativity, and they are looking for violations of the theory. Indeed, new evidences ...view middle of the document...

Guided by this idea, with the help of evidences such as the discovery of the cosmic microwave background, scientists came up with the theory of the big bang, which is the most acceptable explanation for the origin of the Universe so far. However, the big bang is still impossible to test, though we can look for numerous new evidences to support it, nobody in the Universe is able to go back to fourteen billion years ago to prove it is true. Therefore, the theory of relativity needs other actual facts to confirm its truthfulness. Fortunately, several major evidences were found to prove it.The first evidence is the bending light in gravitational fields. General relativity suggests that spacetime is curved by gravitational fields, so that light in space is curved as well. Therefore, we should be able to observe the bending of light in a strong enough gravitational field caused by a massive body. This phenomenon was first observed during a total sun eclipse in 1919. To complete this test, two groups of British scientists went to two different places. One was stationed on an island off the west coast of Africa led by Sir Arthur Eddington, the other went to Brazil. They measured that light from the stars they observed did bend as it gazed the sun, and the amount of bending was 1.75 second arc, which accurately agreed with Einstein’s calculation. This confirmation made Einstein famous overnight, because the facts showed that his theory beat Newton’s laws for the first time.The second evidence is the perihelion shift of Mercury. According to the theory of general relativity, spacetime is curved; weird things happen in this curved space. Light does not travel straightly; the sum of the angles in a triangle can be more or less than 180 degrees. And the orbit of Mercury is no longer the ellipse based on traditional calculation, but shifts a little at its perihelion. This phenomenon is called precession. Newton’s laws predicted the precession as well, which was calculated to be 5557 seconds of arc per century. However, the actual precession should be 5560 seconds of arc per century, which was measured by Simon Newcomb in 1898. Newton’s laws cannot explain the difference of 43 seconds of arc, while this measurement precisely agrees with Einstein’s prediction. Therefore, the alternation of Mercury’s orbit is considered a significant evidence of the theory of general relativity. Moreover, in 1974, the study about binary pulsar PSR 191316 proved Einstein’s theory again. This is the first successful test of relativity outside the solar system. Compared to Mercury and the sun, the advantage of the observation the binary pulsar is that we have plenty of opportunities to observe it. The procession of binary pulsar happens about 1000 times every year, while it only happens 4 times in Mercury’s case.The third evidence is the gravitational redshift. According to the theory of general relativity, gravity affects the frequency and...

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