Friday, May 29, 2009

90th anniversary of the "Relativity Eclipse"

90 years ago today, Arthur Stanley Eddington viewed "the eclipse that proved Relativity."
Eddington photographed the Hyades during the eclipse, then compared these photos to the ones he had taken of the Hyades the night before.

Einstein was right, of course.

Space is flexible and warped (sorry, Newton) and the light passing near massive objects bends due to gravity. And that gravity actually shifts the positions of the smaller objects when they near something massive.

Of course, you can't SEE objects near massive bodies, because massive bodies are very, very bright. (Except for black holes, right. But this was 1919.) Eddington had an idea which now seems obvious. Observe objects near the Sun during a total eclipse, and you'll know whether their positions are shifted by the Sun's gravity. Conveniently, the calendar showed there would be a solar eclipse on May 29th.

There you have it.

Above: The proof

Press reaction was extraordinary. Almost immediately, the word "Einstein" became a synonym for "genius" and remains one to this day.

Big ups to Eddington for getting the eclipse idea, and for organizing the expeditions to both Brazil and West Africa to get the photos.

Below: "Suckas."

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