One of the greatest things about true science is the constant skepticism about accepted truths. Scientific theories are adopted, then are disproven by data gathered from experiments designed to test them, new theories to fit the data are developed, and the general understanding about how the world works is advanced, step by step.
So it is not surprising that scientific researchers continue to test everything: even Albert Einstein’s famous theory of general relativity. In this case, however, Einstein’s theory passed the test . . . again.
The latest experiment involved using deep space telescopes to look at the effects of gravity on space-time in the area around distant pulsars–dense, highly magnetized objects that rotate rapidly and emit beams of electromagnetic out of their poles. The pulsars being examined were part of a double-pulsar system that was discovered in 2003. The amount of energy emitted from the two pulsars is enormous and the two stars generate very strong gravitational fields, allowing scientists on Earth to precisely study the energy carried by gravitational waves, even though the pulsars are 3,000 light years away. And their analysis of the data they gathered confirmed one of the cornerstones of Einstein’s theory.
When you think about it, Albert Einstein must be ranked as one of the most extraordinary human beings in history. He developed his sweeping theories of special and general relativity largely through the use of abstract “thought experiments,” and those theories have since been repeatedly confirmed by real-world data that did not exist when Einstein first developed the theories. Einstein’s theory of general relativity, which addressed the effect of gravity on space-time, was published in 1915–before objects like pulsars were even discovered or sophisticated deep space telescopes that could gather data from dense celestial objects like pulsars were created.
How did he do it, and will we ever see such rare genius again? Those questions may never be answered, but in the meantime Einstein’s theories are ready to face the next test.