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: LCD technology maintains 3D images it displays without drawing power

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Topological defects in the fabric of space and time

Oct 10, 2014

A cosmic string is a very long (possibly as long as the diameter of the visible universe), very thin (less than the width of a proton) high-density object formed during the early moments of the big bang. ...

How myths and tabloids feed on anomalies in science

Oct 02, 2014

There are many misconceptions about science, including how science advances. One half-truth is that unexpected research findings produce crises, leading to new theories that overturn previous scientific knowledge.

Recommended for you

Cooling with molecules

12 hours ago

An international team of scientists have become the first ever researchers to successfully reach temperatures below minus 272.15 degrees Celsius – only just above absolute zero – using magnetic molecules. ...

A 'Star Wars' laser bullet

13 hours ago

Action-packed science-fiction movies often feature colourful laser bolts. But what would a real laser missile look like during flight, if we could only make it out? How would it illuminate its surroundings? ...

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?