Total Eclipse Makes Einstein an Overnight Celebrity

1879

BIRTH

Albert Einstein was born on March 14 in Ulm, Württemberg, Germany

1889

EXPOSED TO SCIENCE

Einstein was gifted books on science and mathematics

1916

GENERAL THEORY OF RELATIVITY

Einstein published his theory of relativity

1917

PLAN TO TEST

Sir Frank Watson Dyson visualized a way to test Einstein’s theory of relativity

1919

TOTAL SOLAR ECLIPSE

Sir Arthur Eddington proved Einstein’s theory of relativity in Principe during a total solar eclipse on May 29 and announced his findings on November 6

1919 Total Eclipse Makes Einstein an Overnight Celebrity

Albert Einstein’s general theory of relativity was confirmed by a set of tests performed by Sir Arthur Eddington during a total solar eclipse. The announcement made Einstein a celebrity overnight and initiated the acceptance of general relativity over Newtonian physics.

 

Sir Arthur Eddington’s Rare Skills

During World War I Eddington was Secretary of the Royal Astronomical Society. He received letters from another noted astronomer regarding Einstein’s theory of general relativity. He was one of the few astronomers with the mathematical skills to understand general relativity. Also, because he was a pacifist and a Quaker, he was one of the few at the time who was open to pursuing a theory developed by a German scientist. In fact, Eddington became the chief supporter of relativity in Britain for decades.

 

Newton’s Work in Progress

In 1919, Newton’s law of universal gravity still dominated scientific discourse. Einstein thought that Newtonian mechanics was inadequate and that lead him to develop his theory of relativity. In fact, Newton himself thought his law of universal gravity was incomplete or a placeholder until a better idea came along.

 

The Perfect Experiment

The Royal Astronomer of Britain, Sir Frank Watson Dyson, visualized in 1917 the perfect experiment to measure light as it travels through space/time and confirm Einstein’s Theory. A total solar eclipse on May 29, 1919, would occur just as the sun was crossing the bright Hyades star cluster. Light from the stars would have to pass through the sun’s gravitational field on its way to Earth, yet would be visible due to the darkness of the eclipse. Scientist would be able to accurately measure the star’s gravity-shifted positions in the sky.

 

Sir Arthur Eddington takes an Island Vacation

Eddington went to Príncipe (a remote island off the west coast of Africa) to measure the stars’ positions during the eclipse. Eddington also sent a group of astronomers to take measurements from Sobral, Brazil, just in case clouds blocked the eclipse over Príncipe. When Eddington returned to England, his data from Príncipe confirmed Einstein’s predictions. Eddington announced his findings on November 6, 1919. The next morning, Einstein, until then a relative newcomer in theoretical physics, was on the front page of major newspapers around the world.

 

Did You Know?

  • Sir Arthur Eddington wrote a parody of The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam based on his 1919 total eclipse experiment.
  • Albert Einstein rarely wore socks because he hated them.
  • Einstein’s eyeballs are preserved in a safe deposit box in New York City.

 

LINKS:

May 29,1919: A Major Eclipse, Relatively Speaking 

Albert Einstein 

Sir Arthur Eddington


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WRITTEN BY: MOUTH WATERING MEDIA