Table of Contents
.......The Elegant Universe
THE ELEGANT UNIVERSE, Brian Greene, 1999, 2003
```(annotated and with added bold highlights by Epsilon=One)
Chapter 3 - Of Warps and Ripples
Experimental Verification of General Relativity
Most people who study general relativity are captivated by its aesthetic elegance. By replacing the cold, mechanistic Newtonian view of space, time, and gravity with a dynamic and geometric description involving curved spacetime, Einstein wove gravity into the basic fabric of the universe. Rather than being imposed as an additional structure, gravity becomes part and parcel of the universe at its most fundamental level. Breathing life into space and time by allowing them to curve, warp, and ripple results in what we commonly refer to as gravity.

Aesthetics aside, the ultimate test of a physical theory is its ability to explain and predict physical phenomena accurately. Since its inception in the late 1600s until the beginning of this century, Newton's theory of gravity passed this test with flying colors. Whether applied to balls thrown up in the air, objects dropped from leaning towers, comets whirling around the sun, or planets going about their solar orbits, Newton's theory provides extremely accurate explanations of all observations as well as predictions that have been verified innumerable times in a wealth of situations. The motivation for questioning this experimentally successful theory, as we have emphasized, was its property of instantaneous transmission of the gravitational force, in conflict with special relativity.

The effects of special relativity, although central to a fundamental understanding of space, time, and motion, are extremely small in the slow-velocity world we typically inhabit. Similarly, the deviations between Einstein's general relativity—a theory of gravity compatible with special relativity—and Newton's theory of gravity are also extremely small in most common situations. This is both good and bad. It is good because any theory purporting to supplant Newton's theory of gravity had better closely agree with it when applied in those arenas in which Newton's theory has been experimentally verified. It is bad because it makes it difficult to adjudicate between the two theories experimentally. Distinguishing between Newton's and Einstein's theories requires extremely precise measurements, applied to experiments that are very sensitive to the ways in which the two theories differ. If you throw a baseball, Newtonian and Einsteinian gravity can be used to predict where it will land, and the answers will be different, but the differences will be so slight that they are generally beyond our capacity to detect experimentally. A more clever experiment is called for, and Einstein suggested one. 10

We see stars at night, but of course they are also there during the day. We usually don't see them because their distant, pinpoint light is overwhelmed by the light emitted by the sun. During a solar eclipse, however, the moon temporarily blocks the light of the sun and distant stars become visible. Nevertheless, the presence of the sun still has an effect. Light from some of the distant stars must pass close to the sun on the way to earth. Einstein's general relativity predicts that the sun will cause the surrounding space and time to warp and such distortion will influence the path taken by the starlight. After all, the photons of distant origin travel along the fabric of the universe; if the fabric is warped, the motion of the photons will be affected much as for a material body. The bending of the path of light is greatest for those light signals that just graze the sun on their way to earth. A solar eclipse makes it possible to see such sun-grazing starlight without its being completely obscured by sunlight itself.

The angle through which the light path is bent can be measured in a simple way. The bending of the starlight's path results in a shift in the apparent position of the star. The shift can be accurately measured by comparing this apparent position with the star's actual location known from observations of the star at night (in the absence of the sun's warping influence), carried out when the earth is at an appropriate position, some six months earlier or later. In November of 1915, Einstein used his new understanding of gravity to calculate the angle through which starlight signals that just graze the sun would be bent and found the answer to be about .00049 of a degree (1.75 arcseconds, where an arcsecond is 1/3600 of a degree). This tiny angle is equal to that subtended by a quarter placed upright and viewed from nearly two miles away. The detection of such a small angle was, however, within reach of the technology of the day. At the urging of Sir Frank Dyson, director of the Greenwich observatory, Sir Arthur Eddington, a well-known astronomer and secretary of the Royal Astronomical Society in England, organized an expedition to the island of Principe off the coast of West Africa to test Einstein's prediction during the solar eclipse of May 29, 1919.

On November 6, 1919, after some five months of analysis of the photographs taken during the eclipse at Principe (and of other photographs of the eclipse taken by a second British team led by Charles Davidson and Andrew Crommelin in Sobral, Brazil), it was announced at a joint meeting of the Royal Society and the Royal Astronomical Society that Einstein's prediction based on general relativity had been confirmed. It took little time for word of this success—a complete overturning of previous conceptions of space and time—to spread well beyond the confines of the physics community, making Einstein a celebrated figure worldwide. On November 7, 1919, the headline in the London Times read "REVOLUTION IN SCIENCE—NEW THEORY OF THE UNIVERSE—NEWTONIAN IDEAS OVERTHROWN." 11 This was Einstein's moment of glory.

In the years following this experiment, Eddington's confirmation of general relativity came under some critical scrutiny. Numerous difficult and subtle aspects of the measurement made it hard to reproduce and raised some questions regarding the trustworthiness of the original experiment. Nevertheless, in the last 40 years a variety of experiments making use of technological advancements have tested numerous aspects of general relativity with great precision. The predictions of general relativity have been uniformly confirmed. There is no longer any doubt that Einstein's description of gravity is not only compatible with special relativity, but yields predictions closer to experimental results than those of Newton's theory.
Table of Contents
.......The Elegant Universe