Einstein's theory of relativity passes yet another test

Einstein's theory of relativity passes yet another test

Einstein's theory of relativity passes yet another test

At this point, the star is so close to the black hole that its proximity speeds it up to 15 million miles per hour, which is almost 3 percent the speed of light.

Astronomers had been tracking the star and preparing to make the observations for the past 16 years, which is the time taken for the star to complete a single orbit of the black hole. This region, with the strongest gravitational field in our galaxy, is the flawless place to explore gravitational physics, and particularly to test Einstein's general theory of relativity.

An worldwide team of scientists studying Sagittarius A*, the supermassive black hole at the center of the Milky Way, has found that, even in the vicinity of the strongest gravitational field in the galaxy, Einstein's relativity applies.

The effect they observed, gravitational redshift, occurs as particles of light (photons) climb out of a gravitational well like a black hole. In this graphic the colour effect and size of the objects have been exaggerated for clarity.

In order to observe the galactic centre, the astronomers use sensitive instruments such as Gravity, Sinfoni and Naco. Frank Eisenhauer, also from the Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics.

The shortest distance between S2 and the black hole, on 19 May, was approximately 14 billion kilometres.

The German-born theoretical physicist had posited that large gravitational forces could stretch light, much like the compression and stretching of sound waves we perceive with the change of pitch of a passing train. The detection was the first ever made near a supermassive black hole.

The study, which is published in the Astronomy & Astrophysics journal, is the culmination of more than a quarter of a century of observation by a team of experts led by Reinhard Genzel of the Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics at Garching, Germany.

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They then compared their measurements, along with previous observations of S2 using other instruments, with the predictions of Newtonian gravity, general relativity and other theories of gravity.

Genzel says this is the second time the team observed S2 making its closest pass to Sagittarius A*.

The scientists selected one star, S2, to follow.

Last May, Genzel and his team pointed their instruments to S2 as it passed close to the black hole. "So it's very important in astronomy to also check that those laws are still valid where the gravitational fields are very much stronger", said Françoise Delplancke, head of the System Engineering Department at ESO.

The star's wavelength stretched as it sought to escape the gravitational pull of the supermassive black hole, shifting its appearance from blue to red, Odele Straub from the Paris Observatory said.

"I am always blown away by Einstein's predictions, by the power of his reasoning which yielded this theory and which has never been faulted", French astrophysicist Guy Perrin, a member of the GRAVITY consortium, told AFP.

"This is the first time that this deviation from the predictions of the simpler Newtonian theory of gravity has been observed in the motion of a star around a supermassive black hole". In connection with what is known as interferometry, in which the light of several telescopes is merged and overlaid, Gravity creates extremely sharp images. The star got close to a monstrous black hole. During the close passage, even the faint glow around the black hole could be detected on most of the images.

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