The much-debated theory of relativity is no longer debatable, according to exacting new research. Albert Einstein taught that due to his general theory of relativity, a massive body like Earth should bend the space-time fabric of the universe, causing it to curve and flex like a trampoline supporting a bowling ball.
NASA’s Gravity Probe B Relativity Mission shot into space about 3 years ago, with only one goal—to quantify Einstein’s predictions from Earth’s orbit. Earlier this year, at the meeting of the American Physics Society, principal investigator Francis Everitt of delivered the first results: Gravity Probe B has verified Einstein’s theory.
Another incredible discovery will be officially announced later this year. Not only did Einstein say that the universe curves around these massive bodies, he said they also “drag” space behind them, which creates a twist in the cosmic fabric. Everitt says his team will soon announce verification of this “frame dragging” effect, as well.
The experiment used four near-perfect spherical gyroscopes, each the size of a Ping-Pong ball, which formed the core of the experiment. These specific gyroscopes are the most perfectly spherical man-made objects in existence, as noted in the Guinness World Records. At the beginning of the experiment, the gyroscopes’ axes pointed to a distant star; as the spacecraft moved around Earth for nearly a year, the researchers carefully monitored the position of the axes.
Einstein’s theory predicts that the axes should shift by 0.0018 degree under the influence of Earth’s pull on space-time. After 18 months of data analysis, Everitt and his team used 18 months of data and concluded that the axial shift was a near perfect match of Einstein’s prediction. Everitt, a Stanford physicist who has spent more than 40 years on the project, says the results are quite sweet. “It’s really extraordinary to look at the output and see Einstein looking back, without any calculations or corrections,” he says. “This measurement is unprecedented in any test of general relativity.”
But was it worth it? The project cost $750 million and we all figured he was right beforehand. I mean, come on, it’s Einstein! At any rate, we now know for certain, and our near religious worship of the genius can continue undisturbed.
The project was first conceived way back in 1959, but was cancelled and restarted over seven times by NASA officials who wondered if the project was really worth the time and money.
No one can say for certain what the findings are worth in monetary terms, but for now Everitt and his colleagues get to bask in the light of being right. “You don’t get to do extremely worthwhile programs without fighting for them,” He adds.