Einstein’s Theory Of Gravity Passes An Extreme Test

Posted: Jul 6 2018, 7:39pm CDT | by , Updated: Jul 8 2018, 5:19am CDT , in Latest Science News


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Einstein’s Theory of Gravity Passes an Extreme Test
Artist impression of the triple star system PSR J0337+1715, which is located about 4,200 light-years from Earth. Credit: NRAO/AUI/NSF; S. Dagnello

New results indicate that general theory of relativity holds true for some of the most compact objects with extremely strong gravity

Einstein’s general theory of relativity predicts that all objects fall at the same rate, regardless of their mass or composition. For instance, if we drop a marble and a cannonball off the Leaning Tower of Pisa at the same time, both objects will hit the ground at the same time, despite the fact that the cannon is a heavier object.

As far as we know, gravity works according to Einstein’s general theory of relativity because it has been proven correct over and over again. However, the theory has not been well-tested at-large astronomical scales and scientists did not know whether Einstein's theory also holds true for objects with extreme gravity.

Alternate theories predict that objects with the extreme gravitational environment, like neutron stars, fall a little differently than objects of lighter mass. When researchers tested the theory in extreme conditions in a triple star system, they found that gravity still works the same way as it does on Earth.

The triple star system, called PSR J0337+1715, is located about 4,200 light-years from Earth. The rare trio was discovered in 2011 and consists of a neutron star accompanied by a white dwarf. The pair orbits a common center of mass every 1.6 Earth days. It is also in a 327-day orbit with another white dwarf, which lies much farther away.

"This is a unique star system," said co-author Ryan Lynch from Green Bank Observatory in West Virginia. "We don't know of any others quite like it. That makes it a one-of-a-kind laboratory for putting Einstein's theories to the test."

The triple system has been observed regularly by ground-based telescopes and they were focused on the neutron star. This particular neutron star is actually a pulsar which spins rapidly, 366 times per second and emits X-rays and radio waves. These radio pulses are used to track the position of the neutron star.

"We can account for every single pulse of the neutron star since we began our observations," said principal author Anne Archibald of the University of Amsterdam. “We can tell its location to within a few hundred meters. That is a really precise track of where the neutron star has been and where it is going."

If alternatives to Einstein’s theory of gravity were correct, the neutron star fell differently from the white dwarf and the pulses would arrive at a different time than expected. But such kind of difference has not been observed so far.

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<a href="/latest_stories/all/all/47" rel="author">Hira Bashir</a>
The latest discoveries in science are the passion of Hira Bashir (). With years of experience, she is able to spot the most interesting new achievements of scientists around the world and cover them in easy to understand reporting.




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