Einstein's Relativity Theory 'Holding Up' After 100 Years, But Facing 'Competing Theories,' Duke Professor Says

Jun 28, 2005
Albert Einstein

This Thursday, June 30, marks the centennial of Albert Einstein’s first paper on the theory of relativity.
Over the last 100 years, relativity has been vindicated in numerous experiments and technological applications, said a Duke University astrophysicist and mathematician. But it has barely affected the way most people understand the universe and is still being challenged by some scientists.

“Over the past century, relativity theory has been holding up quite well,” said Arlie Petters, who develops mathematics to describe the intricate ways that light is warped by massive objects in space, a prediction of relativity theory. “However, we must bear in mind that it took over two centuries before serious problems were found with Newtonian theory.”

Petters, a professor of mathematics and physics, is a co-author of the book “Singularity Theory and Gravitational Lensing.”

“There are still many tests ahead for relativity, especially those pertaining to gravitational waves and the extreme warping of space-time in the vicinity of black holes,” said Petters, who is preparing a paper that gives scientists mathematical tools for performing experiments to test relativity. “And, of course, there is a host of competing theories of gravity hoping to dethrone relativity.”

Space-time is the term for Einstein’s concept that space and time are interrelated phenomena. Gravitational waves are ripples in space-time produced by extreme cosmological events -- analogous to dropping a large rock on a pond.

However, relativity still predominates among scientific theories of space, time, light and gravity on macroscopic scales, Petters said. It has accurately predicted phenomena such as the exact orbit of the planet Mercury, the slight bending of starlight passing the sun and other cosmic observations. In fact, equations from relativity are essential for a now-common technology: the global positioning systems used in cell phones, electronic road maps and nautical navigation instruments.

Petters said relativity has been least successful, perhaps, in replacing in the public mind Isaac Newton’s conceptions of space and time as being absolutely fixed, and of gravity as an attractive force exerted by objects. But that’s understandable, he said. “It is nontrivial to switch to the General Relativistic viewpoint, namely, to think of gravity not as a physical force, but as the result of the warping of space-time.”

A profile of Petters is available at www.dukemagazine.duke.edu/alumni/dm22/star.html

Source: Duke University

Explore further: Researchers demonstrate reconfigurable clusters made of colloidal particles as a form of data storage

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Quantum tech disappoints, but only because we don't get it

Jul 16, 2014

Over the next five years, the UK government will spend £270m on supporting research in "quantum technology". When budget announcements were made in 2013, provisions for offshore wind and shale gas extraction were received ...

Astronomers find seven dwarf galaxies with new telescope

Jul 10, 2014

Meet the seven new dwarf galaxies. Yale University astronomers, using a new type of telescope made by stitching together telephoto lenses, recently discovered seven celestial surprises while probing a nearby ...

Under the bright lights of an aging sun

Jul 04, 2014

Life as we know it on Earth is linked to our star, the Sun, which provides our planet with just the right amount of heat and energy for liquid water to be stable in our lakes, rivers and oceans. However, ...

Reinterpreting dark matter

Jul 02, 2014

Tom Broadhurst, an Ikerbasque researcher at the University of the Basque Country (UPV/EHU), has participated alongside scientists of the National Taiwan University in a piece of research that explores cold ...

Recommended for you

IHEP in China has ambitions for Higgs factory

17 hours ago

Who will lay claim to having the world's largest particle smasher?. Could China become the collider capital of the world? Questions tease answers, following a news story in Nature on Tuesday. Proposals for ...

The physics of lead guitar playing

18 hours ago

String bends, tapping, vibrato and whammy bars are all techniques that add to the distinctiveness of a lead guitarist's sound, whether it's Clapton, Hendrix, or BB King.

The birth of topological spintronics

19 hours ago

The discovery of a new material combination that could lead to a more efficient approach to computer memory and logic will be described in the journal Nature on July 24, 2014. The research, led by Penn S ...

The electric slide dance of DNA knots

22 hours ago

DNA has the nasty habit of getting tangled and forming knots. Scientists study these knots to understand their function and learn how to disentangle them (e.g. useful for gene sequencing techniques). Cristian ...

User comments : 2

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

Dileep_Sathe
1 / 5 (1) Apr 22, 2009
The main of Einstein Year, 2005, was to popularize physics. As Einstein's GR originates in the logical incompleteness of Newton's laws of motion and as there are global and chronic problems in learning Newtonian mechanics, the question is: Have we completely understood the logical incompleteness of Newton's laws of motion?
Shootist
1 / 5 (1) Jul 15, 2009
"to think of gravity not as a physical force, but as the result of the warping of space-time."



Then why do we need boojums like the Higgs boson?