The day Einstein was right

The media often say from time to time “Einstein was right”, but for everything there is a first time and it had to do with an eclipse and his jump to stardom

Who is the most famous scientist of all time? The answer should be immediate, because we are not asking about the best or the most influential, but about the most popular, and there are few names of scientists that the general population has integrated into their discourse. Perhaps we doubt Isaac Newton or Stephen Hawking, but there is a third name that far surpasses his fame: Albert Einstein . Now, the German physicist has the honor of possibly being the only scientist that the majority of the population would know how to recognize from a photo. However, it has not always been this way. There was a time when Einstein lived in anonymity, and we are not just referring to his childhood, but to the years immediately after he gave birth to his theories of relativity .

When popular recognition reached Einstein, he was still in Berlin, in poor health and malnourished. Overnight he went from anonymity to being the center of attention of universities and newspapers. All this thanks to a British physicist who had received his work years ago: Arthur Eddington. Unlike many of his colleagues, Eddington decided to separate warfare from science, and instead of rejecting Einstein’s works simply because he was German, he gave them a chance.. His exceptional intellect did not take long to realize how much the rest of the British physicists were missing and, very determined, he embarked on an adventure, as mediatic as it was maritime, with the intention of making Einstein one of the brightest stars in the sky. of the science.

Risky predictions

When we observe the history of science from the present, it is easy to fall into reproaches and consider the scientists who initially rejected the works of those geniuses who have revolutionized the world to be dogmatic. However, that rejection is exactly what they should have done, at least until the first proofs came that these were something more than pure speculation . Insane speculations are presented daily that seem to make sense, but in which complex errors are hidden that are difficult to spot with the naked eye. That the sciences do not accept them until they have an endorsement of their rigor is a safeguard of the first importance .

Einstein had proposed with his theory of general relativity a completely different way of understanding gravity from the traditional ones. His equations work with it as if it were due to the warping of something called space-time. All this is usually represented as a trampoline in which we deposit objects with different weights. The heavier ones will sink the bed more and if we leave smaller objects around them, the slope created will cause them to roll towards them, accelerating more briskly the steeper, that is, the more massive the objects are. His formulas were able to account for gravitational phenomena with as much or more solvency than Newton’s, but how to know if that idea of ​​curved space-time was a simple but unreal useful artifice?

The eclipse that illuminated Einstein

This is where Arthur Eddington comes into play, who, as if it were a great master of ceremonies, not only found the answer, but also gave it the air of spectacle that the press requested. To understand the key to what Eddington proposed, we must think of space-time as miniature golf and the photons that make up light as balls. Like the hills and valleys of miniature golf, space-time would have deformations caused by the massive objects found in it, such as stars, planets, black holes, etc. If a ball hits our feet in a miniature golf we cannot assume that it has come in a straight line, it may have been deflected by ups and downs and, to discover its origin, the orogeny must be taken into account.In the case of the light that reaches our eyes, the same thing happens, we cannot assume that the star we see is in a straight line, but that the photons of light may have been redirected by the geometry of space-time.

Thus, Eddington decided to take advantage of a total solar eclipse, observable from the southern hemisphere on May 29, 1919 . His intention was to take advantage of the darkness of the eclipse to see if the great mass of the Sun deflected the light of the stars behind it. If Einstein was correct, instead of hiding, the light from the constellation Taurus should surround the Sun, making them appear to be where they shouldn’t according to star charts.Knowing this, Eddington secured funding to send two expeditions, one to the island of Principe in West Africa and the other to the city of Sobral in Brazil (where Eddington himself went). There they could photograph the location of the stars and calculate if they had deviated from Einstein’s prediction in an article he had published 8 years earlier.

Eddington had managed to capture so much attention that, when he returned home, the press was eager to know the results of that experiment, ready to echo them. And, of course, the conclusion was clear: Einstein’s theory of general relativity had been able to predict with less than 1.7 arcseconds of error (that is, one sixtieth of a millimeter on the photograph) In other words: an absolute success that put Einstein in the limelight overnight . Because for an idea to be accepted, it not only has to be right, it has to be known, and Eddington’s scientific communication work changed the science of the 20th century and the history of humanity.

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