Einstein’s legacy Archive

Einstein and the Event Horizon Telescope

Posted March 5, 2017 By admin

Black Holes are both awe inspiring and endlessly fascinating. Who can fail to be interested in a place where time and light die? They are places of unimaginable power, where the laws of nature as we understand them break down.

And what intrigues me more than anything about black holes is that all we know about them is purely man made. What do I mean; after all, surely, there is nothing less man made than such exotic beasts? Yet all we know about them comes from the human mind and imagination because we have never actually seen one let alone probed or examined one.

Black Holes are the creation of Albert Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity (GTR). Without the theory it would be impossible to have created the concept of the black hole. The GTR predicts that if mass is sufficiently compacted it can deform space-time and create black holes. So what are the features of black holes? A brief summary goes like this:

  • The pulling force of a black hole is so great that not even light can escape – hence the term – black hole. It consumes everything within its gravity. There is no escape.
  • Such enormous gravity is caused by matter being squeezed into a tiny space, such as when stars die and collapse in on themselves
  • There are a whole range of sizes, from the small primordial black holes that are thought to have formed when the universe was formed, to super massive black holes at the centre of galaxies, which have the mass of more than a million times our sun in a space the size of the solar system.
  • The black hole at the centre of our galaxy is called Sagittarius A.
  • We have not seen a black hole – yet, we know of their existence by theory and through stars orbiting close to one producing high-energy light, which we can observe.

However, for the first time it is proposed that we will be able to observe a black hole and take a picture. It is some picture though and it will be taken by the Event Horizon Telescope (EHT).

The EHT is not one stand alone telescope. It is a network of radio telescopes dotted around the globe and it is about to go operational. It plans to focus on the super massive black hole Sagittarius A at the centre of our Galaxy, which is 25000 light years away. The nine telescopes create a virtual telescope the size of the earth by combining data from them all and is capable of seeing a grapefruit on the moon.

What will be seen? Well if GTR is correct a crescent of clouds of dust and gas which blazes with energy. Indeed, the picture will be a validation test for GTR. If the picture sees a ring, then there is something incorrect in the GTR, it predicts a crescent.

All I can say is that every validation so far has proved the theory correct, so I look forward to success. And imagine the excitement of seeing a picture of a black hole!

The EHT is a true Einstein machine. An earth wide network designed to see what the GTR predicted and which will further validate the theory.

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2016 – Forget Trump, it was Einstein’s year

Posted January 24, 2017 By admin

Somewhat predictably Time magazine named Donald Trump as their person of the year. I understand the reasoning, but cannot agree. The year undoubtedly belonged to Albert Einstein, but to understand why, we need to understand the deep importance of his theories and the effect they have on our everyday lives.
Two stories stand like book ends to the year; seemingly unconnected, but that is wrong. They are connected by the work of Albert Einstein.
The first was the announcement in February of the discovery of Gravitational Waves. Confirmation from the Laser Interferometer Gravitational Wave Observatory (LIGO) of the capture of the signal on Sept. 14, 2015, caused quite a stir worldwide. Some described it as one of the greatest scientific discoveries of the last 100 years. Why? In essence, it gives us the ability of seeing the universe in a whole new way. Suddenly we are not only able to see the Universe, but now hear it. Whereas before we were deaf to space, now we can hear its music. And what will this mean? Ultimately it will take us all the way back to the start – back to the big bang. The very act of creation may be opened to us.
The second story was the December story that Uber was to use driverless cars in San Francisco. To be fair, it was short-lived. California officials ordered a shutdown after concerns of the cars running red lights. However, surely this is the thin end of the wedge. Driverless cars are here to stay and are set to revolutionise the transportation industry, the insurance industry and all service industries that employ drivers. We are on the verge of a huge shift in how we use the car.
What links these two stories? The General Theory of Relativity (GTR). Einstein’s 1916 masterpiece. Gravitational waves were predicted by Einstein as a consequence of the theory. No theory – no gravitational waves. And for driverless cars? One of the essential elements of the whole system is GPS. Without it, there could be no driverless cars and without the GTR there could be no GPS system. The network of satellites that provide GPS have to constantly take account of the effects of the GTR. If the adjustments were not made then every day the GPS system would be thrown out by miles, rendering it useless.
These stories are a reminder of Einstein’s legacy and our dependence on it. Long after The Don has gone, Einstein will still be influencing and remaking our world and our understanding of the universe. So whilst today’s news cycle may be dominated by Trump, when we look back to 2016 in a hundred years time it will be Einstein people will talk about.

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Einstein’s Practical Doctorate

Posted October 31, 2015 By admin

As November 2015 approaches and the celebrations of 100 years since Albert Einstein’s publication of The General Theory of Relativity kicks into full gear, it is easy to forget his other great achievements. This year also marks the 110th anniversary of Einstein’s so called “miracle year” of 1905 when he published papers on the following subjects:

  • The photoelectric effect
  • Size and number of atoms in a solution
  • Brownian motion
  • Special relativity and a subsequent further paper on the same subject and introducing the small matter of e=mc2.

The least celebrated of these great papers is the second in respect of the size and number of atoms; however, although maybe the least well known by the public it holds an Einstein record and has important influences for a number of industries.

The paper, entitled “A New Determination of molecular Dimensions”, (subject to some minor improvements) was the paper that Einstein submitted to the University of Zurich on the 20th July 1905 for his Doctorate, which he was to receive on the 15th January 1906.

What the paper described was a technique for calculating the size and number of molecules (atoms) in a solution. He did this in a mathematical calculation for the behaviour of sugar molecules in a solution and how this affects the measurable properties of the solution. He was finding a new way of getting results using liquids alone as against previous methods of obtaining the size and number of molecules in a solution from the kinetic theory of gasses.

Why should we be interested in this subject? Well, there are three reasons:

  • It was the work for which Einstein became a Doctor, so it is of biographic interest.
  • It is the most cited paper from Albert Einstein. What does this mean? In 1979 ( to mark the centenary of Einstein’s birth) researchers carried out a survey of citations (in papers published between 1961 and 1975) of all science papers published before 1912. Of the top eleven, four were by Einstein and the top was this paper.
  • It has widespread applications where the suspension of particles in liquids is used from industries as varied as the dairy industry, the study of pollution and the behaviour of liquid cement.

This paper is another example of the way in which Albert Einstein affects our world, in this case on a practical and important level.

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Einstein Special – Scientific American

Posted September 27, 2015 By admin

As I have written about several times this year, 2015 marks the 100th anniversary of the first publication of The General Theory of Relativity and, as expected, the books and articles are coming thick and fast.

 

The latest contribution is a Scientific American special Issue: 100 years of General Relativity. Contributors include Brian Greene, Walter Isaacson, Lawrence Krauss and Corey S, Powell. There are familiar subjects: essays about the history of the publication, his importance, his personality and his mistakes. However, one article in particular caught my attention. It is called Relativity’s Reach and contains a map of Einstein’s influence. It’s premise is that many of the ideas at the limits of physics, such as M-theory and de Sitter universes rely on Einstein’s masterwork on gravity and the bending of space and time.

 

The article relies on the analysis of 2435 abstracts of 2014 physics papers for 61 keywords, each of which represents a research topic that has grown out of general relativity, which is then visually represented.. It leads to a visually interesting map and reveals the depths to which Einstein’s work influences current ideas at the cutting edge of physics. And remember, this is just his work on General relativity; it doesn’t touch his work on Quantum Theory and Special relativity.

 

For a complete list of the current works that Einstein’s work is the cornerstone for, you will need to see the article, but it includes: multiverse, accelerating universe, standard model, supersymmetry, cosmology, string theory, quantum gravity, dark matter and gravitational waves.

 

Einstein’s influence remains deep and persuasive. It not only underpins much of our daily lives through technology, but also the ideas at the very edge of our understanding about the universe and the world in which we live.

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Einstein’s Masterwork by John Gribbin

Posted July 26, 2015 By admin

As 1915 marks the 100th anniversary of the presentation of Albert Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity (GTR), we can expect a number of books on the subject.

John Gribbin has an impressive track record in bringing modern science, and in particular Quantum Theory (‘In Search Schrodinger’s Cat’, and ‘Erwin Schrodinger and the Quantum revolution’) to the general reader. It’s of no surprise to find him delivering a book on Einstein and the GTR. Unfortunately this book is not to the standard of some of his previous works.

Gribbin argues in the book that although Einstein is remembered more famously for his work of 1905, in particular E=mc2, which is memorialised as his Annus Mirabilis, it is the GTR that is the greater work. He then sets about delivering a book to support this argument.

I have two difficulties with what he says and how he says it.

The first is I’m not convinced people do so regard Einstein’s work in such a way. I accept that many people do recognise the famous equation as, well, a famous equation, but I think most people do recognise the GTR as the pinnacle of Einstein’s scientific work. In that respect, he’s pushing against an open door, rather than arguing against accepted wisdom.

The second is having set out the argument; the book itself is actually rather light on the GTR. In a 208 page book, we don’t meet the theory until page 113 and then only for 40 pages. The balance of the book contains a brief biography of Einstein, the legacy of GTR and, rather curiously given Gribbin’s premise that the GTR should be regarded as Einstein’s greatest achievement, a 68 page chapter on the 1905 papers, entitled Annus Mirablis.

And here is the irony of the book: I actually thought the chapter on the 1905 papers was really rather good, better than the somewhat thin and once over lightly chapter on the GTR. I couldn’t help but feel when reading the book that the author was actually unconvinced by his own premise of the relative greatness of Einstein’s work.

I have given the book 3 stars because any book on Einstein that helps to explain his importance and greatness is welcome and some of the science explanations are well done. However, I can’t give more when, in reality, the book does not deliver on the central argument and fails to appropriately focus on the subject of its title.- the General Theory of Relativity.

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