Article for GEK1508 Course; Einstein's Quantum Weirdness

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Article for GEK1508 Course; Einstein's Quantum Weirdness

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1 2006

C. M. Kenneth Hong

Department of Physics, National University of Singapore

E-mail: phyhcmk@nus.edu.sg

ground and is the source of acceleration that

returns a ball to Earth. This article explores the

science of gravity and how it evolved from the

impressive achievements of Newtons laws to the

revolutionary advances of Einsteins theory of

relativity. Einsteins theory of relativity comprises

of two: special relativity and general relativity.

The former one replaces Newtonian mechanics

when the speed is close to the speed of light and is

to be consistent with Maxwells theory of

electromagnetism. General relativity, on the other

hand, supersedes Newtonian gravity when mass or

energy is very large. Both theories completely

revolutionized our concepts in space and time, as

well as, the way we view our universe.

supposedly moved by measuring the speed of light

at different times so that the orientation of their

equipment would change. However, to their

surprising, they measured precisely the same

speed of light for any orientation of their

apparatus! They demonstrated that the observed

speed of light is independent of the observers

motion through space.

Special Relativity

In the nineteenth century, the well-known theory

of electromagnetism was based on Maxwells

equations which describe the behaviour of

electromagnetism and electromagnetic waves.

Maxwells equation showed that light is an

electromagnetic wave and required that all

electromagnetic waves propagate in vacuum at a

fixed speed.

experiment. 1

from thinking about electromagnetism. In

particular, at the age of sixteen, he puzzled over

the consequence of travelling at the speed of light.

One of these is now known as Einsteins mirror:

medium the so called aether for propagation.

The universe was thus filled with aether in which

Maxwells equations hold. That is, aether

constituted an absolute reference frame against

which speeds could be measured. Aether seemed

to have some contradictory properties: it was

sufficient elastic to support electromagnetic waves

but it had no resistance to bodies moving through

it. Many experiments were devised to detect some

measurable effects of the aether. However, none

were successful and this led to many imaginative

explanations to account for it.

you were looking into were both moving at

the speed of light?

The special theory of relativity (or just special

relativity) was proposed by Einstein in 1905 at the

age of 26. Special relativity results from two

fundamental postulates: (1) Principle of relativity:

The laws of Physics are the same for all observers

moving at steady speeds with respect to each

by Albert Michelson and Edward Morley in 1887.

They attempted to determine Earths motion

University Press, 1991.

1

33

other; and (2) The constancy of the speed of light:

The speed of light is constant regardless of the

motion of the observer or of the sender.

direction of motion and your clock run slowly!

When measuring the length of the moving ruler,

you do so by noting the positions of the two ends

at the same time according to your clock.

However, those two events the two

measurements you made do not occur at the

same time as observed by the astronaut. This lack

of simultaneity, together with time dilation, means

that time is relative. The previously accepted

Newton concept of an absolute and universal time

that was the same for all observers has now been

abolished.

Additional careful experimentation would reveal

that the mass of the rocket also increases.

Theoretically, the mass of the rocket becomes

nearly infinitely large as the speed of the rocket

approaches the speed of light. Therefore, objects

become harder to accelerate as their speeds

increase. It becomes impossible to accelerate any

object up to and beyond the speed of light. As a

corollary, the speed of light becomes the ultimate

speed for any physical object and signal.

speed of light to the status of a constant of nature.

He rewrote the new laws of mechanics to reflect

this new fact and led to a deeper understanding of

the universe. This theory is called special

because it applies only to restricted inertial frames

in which the effects of gravity can be ignored.

Special relativity is equivalent to Newtonian

mechanics in describing objects that move much

more slowly than the speed of light, but it differs

significantly in its predictions at high speeds.

special relativity is that the rockets energy and

mass are proportional to one another via the

famous formula E = mc2. This is one way to see

why objects with any mass can never reach the

speed of light an infinite amount of energy is

required to get there! The mass and energy are

now equivalent. With this concept of mass-energy

equivalence, conservation of mass and energy are

combined allowing mass and energy can be

converted to each other. The conversion factor is

just the square of the speed of light. Both nuclear

power plants and atomic weapons are the explicit

validations of this formula.

consequences that stuck many people as bizarre.

We describe here some of those odd

consequences. Imagine that a rocket is flying past

you closely at a relative speed comparable to the

speed of light. You begin to notice that the rocket

appears to contract in the direction of motion. A

one-meter ruler on board, which is identical at the

launch to the one you keep in your laboratory, is

now shorter than its twin. This is called Lorentz

length contraction.

Newtonian Gravity

Issac Newton developed the gravitational law that

summarizes how gravity depends on mass and

distance. Newtons law says that the force of

gravity between two objects is proportional to the

mass of each of them. The greater the gravitational

attractions between them if the objects are more

massive. The law also says that the force between

two objects is proportional to the inverse square of

their distance.

synchronized prior to launch with yours, now ticks

more slowly. This phenomenon, called time

dilation, can be found on the routine work in

particle accelerators. Of course, from the view

point of the astronaut in the rocket, you are the one

moving rapidly. Hence, as observed from the

must be considered one of the most successful

http://archive.ncsa.uiuc.edu/Cyberia/NumRel/SpecialRel.

html

34

physical theories of all times. It accounts for the

motions of all the constituents of the solar system

with uncanny accuracy, permitting, for instance,

the prediction of eclipses hundreds of years ahead.

the same time.

To explain why all objects fall at the same rate

under the gravitational pull, Newton proposed the

equivalence of inertial mass and gravitational

mass. Inertial mass is the resistance of an object to

any change in its state of motion. This is the mass

in Newtons second law. It is a permanent

property of the object and does not change depend

on its location. Gravitational mass, on the other

hand, is the respond of an object to gravity. It

determines how strongly two objects attract each

other by gravity. It depends on the local strength

of gravity and appears to vary according to the

environment. For instance, an object in deep space

still has inertial mass but its gravitational mass is

zero. There is no reason why these two quantities

from so different origins are the same. However, it

is the apparent equivalence of these two types of

masses which results in the uniformity of

gravitational acceleration Galileos result that all

objects fall at the same rate independent of mass.

nothing to do with how long the objects have been

in each others presence. This means that the

objects will immediately feel a change in their

mutual gravitational attraction if their masses or

the separation changes. For instance, if the Sun

were suddenly to explode, the Earth, being some

150 million kilometres away, would instantly

experience the change on their mutual

gravitational pull. The knowledge that the Sun had

exploded would be instantaneously transmitted to

the Earth through the sudden change in their

mutual gravitational pull although the light from

the explosion would take about eight minutes to

reach the Earth.

This conclusion is in direct conflict with Einstein's

special relativity since no physical signal can be

transmitted faster than speed of light. Confident in

the success of special relativity, Einstein began the

search of a new theory of gravity compatible with

special relativity. Almost a decade later, in 1915,

he published the general theory of relativity (or

just general relativity). General relativity is now

general enough to include all possible reference

frames in which the effects of gravity cannot be

ignored.

and gravitational masses is the comparison of the

acceleration of two objects of different

composition in gravitational field. If this

equivalence is violated, then the accelerations of

different objects would differ. Newton himself

used a fixed length pendulum with weights of

varying composition to test this equivalence. The

period of the swing of the pendulums should

depend only on the length of the pendulum

regardless of the compositions. Newton concluded

that these two types of masses are the same to an

accuracy of at least 1 part in 1000.

The Greek philosopher Aristotle believed that all

objects have a natural tendency to fall towards the

center of the universe, which was considered to be

the center of the Earth. According to Aristotle, the

heavier objects fall faster than lighter ones since

the heavier ones were being pulled harder by

gravity. The influence of Aristotle in the following

centuries made it difficult to challenge any of his

pronouncements.

Hungarian physicist Roland von Etvs performed

an experiment significantly improved upon

Newtons accuracy. He developed a device called

a torsion balance, which consists of a pair of

objects of equal mass attached to the opposite ends

of a rod suspended by a fine wire. In additional to

gravitational force on each object, there is an

inertial force due to the rotation of the Earth. If the

inertial and gravitational masses are not the same,

the rod will rotate about a vertical axis until it is

halted by the restoring torque of the twisted wire.

The amount of twist can be measured by rotating

the whole apparatus through 180. The rod will

now twist in the opposite direction. However, if

there are exactly equal, there will be no movement

of the rod between these two orientations of the

refute Aristotles theories. According to legend,

Galileo dropped various objects from the top of

the Leaning Tower of Pisa. He demonstrated that

all objects fall at the same rate under the pull of

gravity if air resistance is eliminated. This

experiment was also carried out by Apollo 15

astronaut David Scott by dropping a hammer and a

feather simultaneously onto the Moon. It was

observed that these two objects fell at precisely the

35

apparatus. Using this apparatus, Etvs was able

to verify this equivalence to within a few parts in

1000 million. Modern versions of Etvs type

experiments have been carried out to verify this

equivalence to even higher degrees of accuracy.

Einstein's Happiest Thought

Galileo and Newton had accepted the equality

between inertial and gravitational masses as a

happy coincidence. However, Einstein was not

content and started to look for an even deeper

insight behind this equality.

Einstein would not be able to tell whether he is at rest

on Earth or accelerating at a constant rate through

space. 3

his desk in the patent office in Bern, Switzerland,

Einstein had the central insight leading him to his

general relativity. In a lecture, Einstein told the

story about what happened:

above the Earth, he will be floating freely in the

lift. He seems to feel no gravitational force. All

objects will also floating with him as if gravity

were absent. This is, of course, only an

approximation as we know that the gravity at the

top of the lift is a little weaker than that at the

bottom. There will still be residual effect of

gravity, called tidal force, which is responsible for

the ocean tides on the Earth. However, if the lift is

sufficiently small, it will be closer to a zerogravity situation. The observer would be unable to

tell whether he was in free fall or in a gravity-free

environment until the lift hit the ground! In

effect, acceleration due to free fall is equivalent to

a gravitational field that cancels out the Earths

gravity. Therefore, this small free-falling lift can

be treated as an inertial reference frame.

at Bern when all of a sudden a thought

occurred to me: If a person falls freely he

will not feel his own weight. I was

startled. This simple thought made a deep

impression on me. It impelled me toward a

theory of gravitation.

Einstein later referred to this thought as the

happiest thought of my life. This happiest

thought infers that special relativity and all other

laws of physics appear as usual in a frame of

reference falling freely under the influence of

gravity.

To understand Einstein's insight, consider an

observer in a rocket in the outer space without the

influence of gravity. The rocket is undergoing

uniform acceleration upwards at 9.8 m/s2. To this

observer, he will feel the force of the floor on his

feet. This is the same situation that you will feel

the force of your seat on your back if you are on

the car being accelerated forward. Einstein's

realization was that the observer will not be able to

distinguish this accelerated situation from one

without acceleration but with gravity. Now, if the

rocket is stationary on the Earths surface, i.e.

under the influence of Earths approximately

uniform gravity g = 9.8 m/s2, this observer will

again feel the familiar force of the floor on his

feet.

accelerated motions with gravity the equivalence

principle. It plays a central role in the construction

of general relativity. This principle could be used

to produce artificial gravity on a space station. The

station could be made to spin so that the

centripetal acceleration in the living quarters is 9.8

m/s2. This would make the weight of anyone in

the living quarters the same as on the Earth.

Non-Euclidean Geometry

Euclidean geometry is the geometry we learn from

schools. This approach to geometry was laid down

by Euclid and has formed the basis for teaching

the subject for more than 2000 years. We are all

3

http://archive.ncsa.uiuc.edu/Cyberia/NumRel/GenRelativity

.html

36

educated to believe that parallel straight lines

never intersect, three interior angles of a triangle

adds up to 180, and so on.

than 180. A typical example of elliptic geometry

is the surface of a sphere. The straightest line

between two points on this surface is part of a

great circle defined such that a slice through a

great circle cuts the sphere into two equal halves.

Examples of great circles are the lines of longitude

and the equator. This generalization of the notion

of a straight line is called a geodesic. In general,

the geodesics are paths of shortest distance and

define the straight lines for a given surface.

A line can be drawn from any point to any other

point; (2) A finite line segment can be extended to

a line of any length; (3) A circle can be drawn

with any centre and at any distance from that

centre; (4) All right angles are equal to one

another; and (5) Parallel postulate: Given a line

and a point not on this line, there is only one line

through this point that is parallel to the original

line. These postulates were assumed to be selfevidently true. However, the fifth postulate was

not so obvious. Many mathematicians tried

unsuccessfully to prove it.

which the sum of the three interior angles adds up to

more than 180. 5

two points can be calculated using the familiar

Pythagoras theorem. Riemann discovered that

distances between two points on any surface can

also be calculated by a generalization of the

Pythagoras theorem. Riemann further extended it

to spaces of any number of dimensions, which

cannot be easily visualized, and to surfaces whose

curvature was able to vary from point to point.

This mathematical apparatus was exactly the one

needed by Einstein in order to construct his new

theory of gravity.

the sum of the three interior angles adds up to less than

180. 4

on the Euclids fifth postulate. The essential

difference between Euclidean and non-Euclidean

geometry is the nature of the parallel lines. In

1829, the Russian Nikolai Lobachevski built a new

geometry without the fifth postulate. In

Lobachevskis geometry, there is more than one

line through a point which is parallel to any given

line. The sum of the interior angles in a triangle is

less than 180 in this geometry. This actually

describes geometry on a surface such as saddle

which appears concave in direction along the spine

of the horse but convex in the other direction.

Geometry with these properties is known as

hyperbolic geometry now.

Spacetime Geometry

Space and time are to be treated on equal footing

and can be interrelated in special relativity. In

1908, Hermann Minkowski developed the idea of

spacetime continuum as the underlying

geometry behind the space and time relationships

proposed by special relativity. Minkowski

proposed treating time as a variable in the same

way as one treats the space coordinates of a point

in three-dimensional space. Instead of space and

time separately, one should now think in terms of

of geometry, known as elliptic geometry now, by

dropping the second Euclids postulate. He

proposed that lines can be finite in length but

endless. In this geometry, there are no parallel

Cambridge University Press, 1991.

5

http://www.physics.nus.edu.sg/einstein/

37

events in four-dimensional spacetime. This fourdimensional spacetime is a very useful concept in

relativity (both special and general relativity) and

is called Minkowski spacetime in special relativity.

geodesic is space-like, null (light-like), or timelike, the geodesics in spacetime are classified as

space-like, null (light-like) or time-like. Space-like

geodesics are paths on the surface of simultaneity

according to an inertial observer. The path of a

light ray in spacetime is described by a null

geodesic. The time-like geodesics is the path

traced out by an inertial observer and it is the path

with the longest elapsed time.

visualized in the mean of spacetime diagrams. The

conventions used in spacetime diagrams are as

follows: the horizontal direction denotes space,

while the vertical direction denotes time.

Horizontal sections which are higher up in the

diagram give the spatial position at a later time.

the Euclidean space is flat. Consider two initial

observers which are initially stationary with

respect to each other. Their initial geodesics are

two parallel time-like geodesics. According to

special relativity, inertial observers who initially

are at rest always remain at rest with respect to

each other. Thus, initially parallel time-like

geodesics always remain parallel. The same

conclusion applies to both null and space-like

geodesics. Therefore, Minkowski spacetime is flat.

usual Euclidean geometry, we can represent the

position of any point by three coordinates. Now,

an event is specified by four coordinates: the three

coordinates x, y and z, describing where the event

happened, together with time, t, of the event,

specifying when it happened. An event

corresponds to a point in the spacetime diagrams.

Einstein concluded that spacetime must be curved

from his equivalence principle. However, the

spacetime appears locally flat to the free-falling

observer. Gravity that we feel when we are not in

a free-falling is a manifestation of spacetime

curvature.

Earth around the Sun. 6

Figure 7 A schematic diagram illustrates the idea that

the curvature mimics a force acting between the ants. 7

spacetime events corresponding to the history of

the object. It traces out a path in the spacetime

diagrams. For instance, consider the motion of the

Earth around the Sun. Since the Sun is at rest, its

world line is just a vertical straight line. In the case

of the Earth, its orbit in space is (nearly) circular

and is restricted to a plane. The Earths word line

traces out a spiral helix in spacetime diagram.

from his equivalence principle to the idea of

curved spacetime, imagine a colony of twodimensional creatures, Spherelander, living on a

two-dimensional surface of the sphere,

Sphereland. Spherelanders construct a sufficient

large triangle by using a set of very straight

aluminium rulers. They intend to measure the sum

of the interior angles. According to their

knowledge of Euclidean geometry, they expect the

in spacetime. According to whether the spacetime

T. Hey and P. Walters, Einsteins Mirror, P60, Cambridge

University Press, 1991.

P69, Scientific American Library (New York), 1990.

38

General Relativity

to be 200. They then postulate that there is force

acting on the aluminium rulers. This superstitious

force causes the rulers bend in such a way to make

the sum exceeds 180.

be described in terms of curved spacetime. To

complete his formulation of general relativity, it

remains to spell out in quantitative detail the

relationship between spacetime curvature and the

distribution of matter. Although Einstein had a

clear physical picture of the equivalence principle

and of the curved spacetime as early as 1907, it

took him eight years more to arrive at the

equations of general relativity.

triangle but now using platinum rulers. Again,

they obtain the same result exactly. After repeating

the same experiment by using different type of

rulers, they conclude that this superstitious force

affects all rulers equally. Next, the Spherelanders

construct smaller triangle using shorter rulers and

the sum turns out to be 190. They realize that

smaller triangles yield smaller sum. As the

triangles get smaller and smaller, the sum gets

closer and closer to the expected value of 180.

Since all rulers behaved exactly the same way,

Spherelanders then suggest that it might have less

to do with the rulers themselves rather than the

underlying structure of Sphereland. They come out

the idea that perhaps their world, Sphereland, is

actually curved. Furthermore, when they confine

their attention to progressively smaller regions, the

world appears more and more equivalent to a flat

world.

equivalence principle to curved spacetime. All

objects fall at the same rate. Maybe, the

gravitational force acting on them has less to do

with the objects themselves rather than with the

underlying spacetime geometry. Just as

Sphereland was curved, our spacetime is also

curved. The trajectories of falling objects simply

reflect the distortion of spacetime. In sufficiently

small free-falling laboratories, all objects

experience no gravity. The spacetime inside the

laboratory is approximately Minkowski spacetime

just like the smaller space in Sphereland was

approximately the flat space.

equation which has the schematic form:

density

curvature

field equation of general relativity in the way that

Maxwells equations are the field equations of

electromagnetism. Maxwells equations relate the

electromagnetic field to its sources charges and

currents. Einsteins equation relates spacetime

curvature to its source the mass-energy density.

apply to all laws of physics. In other words, all

equations were to be written in the usual form they

had in the Minkowski spacetime when applied to a

free-falling frame. The motion of the free-falling

bodies is along the geodesics of the curved

spacetime just like the straightest lines in

Sphereland correspond to geodesics.

much curvature is generated in the presence of

matter. The equivalence principle then tells how

matter responds to it freely falling bodies move

along geodesics. A famous statement by American

physicist John Wheeler illustrates the major

principle in general relativity: matter tells

http://archive.ncsa.uiuc.edu/Cyberia/NumRel/GenRelativity.

html

39

instantaneous action of the Sun. Unlike Newton,

Einstein has specified the mechanism by which

gravity is transmitted to be the warping of the

spacetime. That is to say the Earth is hold in orbit

due to the warping of the spacetime caused by the

presence of the Sun.

tells matter how to move.

To obtain a feel for this new view of gravity, we

consider the following rubber membrane-bowling

ball analogy. In the absence of any matter or

energy, the spacetime would be flat. This could be

visualized as a sheet of rubber membrane. Now,

the presence of mass suggested that the spacetime

is to be warped. This is much like a situation that

we put a bowling ball on the rubber membrane.

The region of the rubber membrane around the

bowling ball becomes distorted.

The gravitational red shift was the first of

Einstein's great predictions after he had formulated

his version of the equivalence principle. This

phenomenon is the gravitational analogue of the

Doppler effect. You should have the experience of

the Doppler effect in your daily life a noticeable

change in the pitch of the siren as the ambulance

passes you. When the source (ambulance) is

approaching you, the effective wavelength of the

sound wave (siren) is shortened as the source

moves closer during the period of the siren and

hence a higher pitch of the siren is detected.

Similarly, the pitch of the siren will be lowered if

it is receding from you.

rubber membrane and set if off with some initial

velocity. If the rubber membrane is flat, the ball

bearing will travel along a straight line. Due to the

distortion on the rubber membrane by bowling

ball, the ball bearing will now travel along a

curved path. Furthermore, if we set the ball

bearing moving with just a right speed in just the

right direction, it will move in an orbit around the

bowling ball.

shift is to consider the following thought

experiment. There is an emitter of a well-defined

wavelength of light placed on the ground. A

receiver is placed at the top of a high tower and is

tuned to receive the incoming signal from the

emitter on the ground. Assume that there is an

observer at rest right next to the receiver. He

begins to fall back to Earth at the instant the

emitter sends the light upward.

spacetime around it, and the Earths motion, like

that of the ball bearing, is determined by the

warping of the spacetime. The Earth, like the ball

bearing, will move in orbit around the Sun if its

speed and orientation have certain suitable values.

This effect on the motion of the Earth is what we

normally refer to as the gravitational influence of

the Sun.

absent due to equivalence principle. He measures

the wavelength of the light to be the same as the

emitted wavelength. As the light moves upward,

he also begins to fall. However, the wavelength of

the light remains unchanged as seen by him. He

will observe the receiver moving away from him

as he is falling. Therefore, when the receiver

receives the light, it is going to detect a longer

wavelength than that measured by the free-falling

observer due to Doppler effect. In this case, we

have gravitational red shift effect when light is

moving against the gravity. On the other hand, if

the emitter had been at the top and the receiver on

the ground, the shift would have been toward

shorter wavelength since the receiver would be

moving toward the free-falling observer.

Gravitational blue shift effect occurs in this case.

illustrate the new view of gravity from general

relativity. 9

Earth in orbit is due to the mysterious

T. Hey and P. Walters, Einsteins Mirror, P192,

Cambridge University Press, 1991.

9

40

stationary observer is in a gravitational field, he

will conclude that the gravity bends light.

carried out at Harvard tower. 10

Figure 11 A schematic diagram for the bending of light

due to gravity. 11

famous Pound-Rebka experiment. This experiment

is very close in concept to the one described in the

above thought experiment. It was carried out at

Harvard University's Jefferson laboratory in 1959.

This result confirmed the predictions at the 10%

level and was later improved to better than the 1%

level by Pound and Snider.

test of Einsteins predictions. The idea is to detect

the change in position of stars as the starlight

gazed the Sun. The observations were performed

by Sir Arthur Eddington and his collaborators

during the solar eclipse of 1919. The result was

consistent with Einsteins prediction and made the

front page of most major newspapers. It made the

name of Einstein and his general relativity world

famous.

Bending of Light

Einstein predicted that the deflection of light under

the influence of gravity. It is quite easy to see how

Einsteins equivalence principle leads to a

deflection of light from the following thought

experiment. Consider an astronaut in a rocket

located in the outer space under no influence of

gravity. A light ray is emitted from one side of the

rocket to a light detector on the opposite side. The

astronaut observes that the light ray is travelling

along a straight line from one side to the other.

Now, consider the same rocket in free-fall near to

the Earth. According to equivalence principle, the

astronaut again will observe that the light ray

travels in a straight line across the rocket.

General relativity predicts that clocks tick slower

in a strong gravitational field. This can be

illustrated as following. From the discussion on

gravitational red shift, we know that light is going

to be red-shifted when it is travelling upwards.

The observer on the top is going to detect the light

with longer wavelength. This will mean that he is

going to receive the light pulses less frequently

than the observer on the ground. For instance, if

the observer on the ground sends light pulses at 1

second intervals (according to the clock on the

ground), then the observer on the top would

receive the pulses at intervals of greater than 1

second (according to the clock on the top). The

observer on the top therefore concludes that the

ground clock is running slower.

of a stationary observer on the ground. This

stationary observer also needs to observe that the

light ray is detected by the detector. However, by

the time the light has crossed the rocket, the rocket

and the detector has fallen down a distance.

Therefore, this stationary observer will observe

that the light ray follows a curved path. Since the

10

pulses at one second intervals downwards, the

11

http://hyperphysics.phy-astr.gsu.edu/

41

http://hyperphysics.phy-astr.gsu.edu/

observer on the ground would receive the pulses at

intervals of lesser than one second. The ground

observer will then conclude that the top clock is

running faster. We therefore conclude that clocks

run slower in a stronger gravitational field and the

stronger the gravitational field the slower the

clocks!

Mercury, all the planetary orbits precess. In fact,

Newton's theory predicts these effects as mostly

being produced by the gravitational attractions of

the other planets on one another. The question is

whether Newton's predictions agree with the

amount an orbit precesses. The precession of the

orbits of all planets except for Mercury's can, in

fact, be understood using Newton's equations. But

Mercury seemed to be an exception.

Hence, it makes certain sense that it would be

better if we always stay on the basement level. We

will be younger than those stay on the high-floor

level! However, this effect is going to be a minute

one on the Earth due to the weak gravity. Imagine

that we are living on a surface of a much more

massive object. In this case, we can simply stay on

the basement in order to be younger. Although one

will be older staying on high-floor level, one

would be smarter there since one could think faster

there comparatively!

Mercury's orbit. 12

Gravitational

time

dilation

has

been

experimentally measured using Cesium atomic

clocks by Hafele and Keating on 1971. They made

airline flights around the world in both directions,

once eastward and once westward. They compared

their clocks with the clock of the Observatory in

Washington, D.C. when they returned. To

calculate the expected times, we have to include

both gravitational time dilation and special

relativistic effect. The result matched the theory to

better than 10%. Later experiments involving

rockets and spacecraft improved on this accuracy.

Nowadays, this effect has to be taken care to

resolve the discrepancy between the clocks on the

satellites and the clocks on the ground in the

Global Positioning System (GPS). This is a

practical demonstration of the theory of relativity

in a real-world system.

arc-seconds per century (one degree equals to

3600 arc-seconds) with respect to the position of

the Vernal Equinox of the Sun. Newton's

equations predict a precession of 5557 arc-seconds

per century. This has taken into account all the

effects from the other planets, the slight

deformation of the Sun due to its rotation, as well

as, the fact that the Earth is not an inertial frame.

There is a discrepancy of 43 arc-seconds per

century.

A number of ad-hoc proposals were put forward to

account for the discrepancy. One was the existence

of new matter (planet, dust or asteroid) in an orbit

between Mercury and the Sun. Unfortunately, no

solid observational evidence was ever found. Lots

of suggestions were made to explain this

discrepancy, some simple, some serious, some

very complicated, and none very successful. In

contrast, Einstein was able to predict, without any

adjustments whatsoever, that the orbit of Mercury

should precess by an extra 43 seconds of arc per

century should the general relativity be correct.

A longstanding problem in the study of the Solar

System was that the orbit of Mercury did not

behave as required by Newton's theory. As the

Mercury orbits the Sun, it traces out an ellipse

with the Sun at one focus. The point in the orbit

that is the closest to the Sun, called perihelion, is

fixed, so that a line drawn from the Sun to the

perihelion points in a fixed direction. It was found

that the perihelion of Mercury does not always

occur at the same location but rotates around the

Sun. The ellipse is then rotates in its plane so that

the actual orbit describes a kind of rosette pattern.

This rotation of the orbit is called a precession.

12

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42

solution. The critical radius at which the escape

speed from an object would equal to the speed of

light has been named after Schwarzschild as the

Schwarzschild radius. Every object has a

Schwarzschild radius at which the object would

have to be compressed for it to become a black

hole. In other words, a black hole is an object that

happens to lie within its own Schwarzschild

radius.

Black Holes

Black hole is probably one of the famous

predictions of general relativity. A black hole is a

cosmic hotel in such a way that you can check in

but you cannot check out! It is an object so

massive that not even light can escape its

attractions. It is surprising that the idea of a black

hole was first anticipated over 200 years ago

although general relativity is to be employed to the

full description of black holes.

Normally, when you throw a ball up into the

air, it falls back down to the Earth. However, if

you throw a ball up at a speed of greater than 11.2

kilometers per second, Earth's escape speed, it will

not return. Such speed is required in order for the

astronauts to go to the Moon. Escape speed is the

key to understand black holes. By definition, the

escape speed is the minimum speed required for an

object to escape from the gravitational pull of

another. A bodys escape speed is proportional to

the square root of the bodys mass divided by the

square root of its radius.

hole. 13

equal to the Schwarzschild radius and centered on

the point mass is called the event horizon. We

could think of the event horizon as the surface

of a black hole. The event horizon serves as a

loyal cosmic traffic officer ensuring a one-way

traffic to black hole. It defines the region within

which no event can ever be known by outside

observers. Anything from outsides can cross this

surface; however, anything that happens inside

remains forever hidden to outside observers.

astronomer, pointed out that a sufficiently dense

object might have an escape speed faster than

light. Since not even light can escape from this

object, it would be invisible. In 1796, the French

mathematician Pierre Simon Laplace promoted

similar ideas to those of Michell. These objects are

often referred to as dark stars. The phase black

hole was coined by Wheeler in 1967.

This is a point at which both its density and

gravitational field become infinite. Singularities

are not physical; rather, they always signal the

breakdown of the theory producing them. Many

strange things may occur around singularities. In

view of this, Roger Penrose proposed the cosmic

censorship hypothesis stating that Nature always

hides any singularity in 1969. For instance, the

black hole singularity is found inside an event

horizon. Even though physics fails, its breakdown

cannot affect us outside.

Sun is being compressed. As the Sun shrinks, its

mass remains the same, but its escape speed

increases because the Suns radius is decreasing. If

the Sun could be compressed to less than 3

kilometers, the escape speed would exceed the

speed of light. Since nothing can go faster than

light, absolutely nothing could escape from the

surface of the compressed Sun. Our Sun would be

invisible and uncommunicative. The compressed

Sun could be said to have disappeared from the

universe. Only its gravitational field would remain

behind betraying the presence of its mass.

stellar evolution for a high mass star. A star like

our Sun is prevented from gravitational collapse

by the outward pressure generated by nuclear

starts with a German astronomer Karl

Schwarzschild. In 1916, Schwarzschild first

obtained an exact solution from Einsteins field

equations describing a static point mass. This

solution is now known as the Schwarzschild

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43

To examine the nature of the black hole, lets orbit

around a black hole with 10 solar masses at a safe

distance in a spacecraft. This black hole would

have a 30-kilometer event horizon. Suppose a poor

observer is falling into the black hole to probe it.

Everything would appear to be as usual to the

infalling observer. He will realize nothing special

and eventually crosses the event horizon the

point of no return. This poor observer is now

doomed to fall towards the singularity of the black

hole. As he falls closer to the singularity, he would

start to be uncomfortable. If, as he falls in, his feet

are closer to the singularity than his head, his feet

will be pulled more strongly inward than his head.

He would find himself stretched enormously in

height and squeezed unmercifully laterally. The

near infinite spacetime curvature would stretch

him like a piece of spaghetti and rip his body apart

spaghettification. The remnant of his body

would be hitting to the singularity and the black

hole has now added the mass of this poor observer.

of a balloon in which it is not flattened due to the

pressure of air molecules interior. Toward the end

of a stars life, the nuclear fuel for these nuclear

reactions becomes exhausted and the star now

begins to contract under gravity.

The final destiny of the star is governed simply by

its mass. A not very massive star, such as the Sun,

will shed some of its outer layers to form planetary

nebula. At the center of the nebula remains the

core of the star, which cools down to become a

small but dense white dwarf. A white dwarf

consists of nuclei wandering about in the sea of

electrons. It is prevented to be further

gravitationally collapsed because the inward

gravity is balanced by the electron degeneracy

pressure. This electron degeneracy pressure is a

consequence of the Pauli exclusion principle in

which the electrons are resisted to be squashed

together.

Stars more massive than our Sun come to a more

dramatic end. The Indian-born astrophysicist,

Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar, showed that the

electron degeneracy pressure is not strong enough

to counterbalance the gravitational pull if the star

is more massive than 1.4 solar masses

Chandrasekhar limit. The electrons are then

absorbed by protons to form neutrons, and the

final collapse of the core is very rapid. This results

a very violent stellar explosion, which is called

supernova by Walter Baade and Fritz Zwicky in

1934, and a neutron star is left behind. The

neutron degeneracy pressure now serves as a

mechanism to prevent further gravitational

collapse. In 1939, Robert Oppenheimer and

Hartland Snyder further showed that the neutron

degeneracy pressure is insufficient to prevent

further collapse if the mass of the neutron star is

more than 3 solar masses. The core will collapse

that results in a singularity and a black hole is then

formed.

spacecraft, we would realize that an increasing

amount of time is required to receive the signal

from the poor infalling observer as he is

approaching the event horizon gravitational time

dilation. Furthermore, the signal from the poor

infalling observer would be detected to have

longer wavelength gravitational red shift. Upon

reaching the event horizon, the time of the

infalling observer would seem to stop from us and

the signal emitted would be red-shifted to

infinitely long wavelengths. Theoretically, the

signal could still reach us still moving at the

speed of light but with zero energy. Thus, the

emitted signal would be red-shifted beyond our

perception. Consequently, the image of the

infalling observer would be frozen on the event

horizon and we would never actually witness the

infalling observer sink below the event horizon.

All the observational evidence for black holes is

necessarily indirect. As matter falling towards a

black hole will be accelerated to speeds

approaching the speed of light, we expect black

holes to be strong sources of X-rays caused by the

charged matter falling towards them. There is now

a great deal of indirect astronomical evidence for

black holes in two mass ranges: (1) stellar mass

black holes with masses ranging from 4 to 15 solar

masses; and (2) supermassive black holes with

masses in the range of order 105 to 1010 solar

masses.

do not cruise around interstellar space and suck up

everything insight. In fact, the orbit of an object

near a black hole is the same as its orbit near a star

of the same mass. Only if the object is too close to

the event horizon, its orbit would be significantly

deviate from the predictions from Newtonian

gravity. Of course, if the object is falling into a

black hole, it would be unable to come out.

44

Many stars in our galaxy are believed to occur in

binary systems in which two stars are in orbit

round each other. Some binary systems have

peculiar properties that the visible member is in

orbit around the invisible companion. The

invisible member emits large amounts X-rays and

its mass is measured as several solar masses. It is

therefore believed that the invisible companion is

a black hole. Amongst, one particular binary

system lying in the constellation Cygnus has

drawn much attention. The black hole candidate is

an X-ray source called Cygnus X-1. The visible

companion is a blue B-type supergiant and the

mass of the Cygnus X-1 is about 10 solar masses

making it too massive to be anything but a black

hole. Some other black hole candidates include the

third X-ray source discovered in the Large

Magellanic Cloud called LMC X-3 with a

mass of nearly 10 solar masses, as well as, the Xray binary system A0620-00 which contains an

invisible compact object of mass 3.8 solar masses.

General relativity also plays a role on the origin

and evolution of the whole universe. After his

great success with general relativity, Einstein

began to think about the implication of his theory

for the universe as a whole. In 1917, he came out

the first mathematical model of the universe. This

began a new field of physics relativistic

cosmology.

To his great surprise, when the equations are

applied to the universe as a whole, he reached a

remarkable conclusion: the overall size of the

universe must be changing in time. At this time,

the universe was strongly believed to be a very

static place. For this reason, Einstein chose to

modify his field equations by introducing an extra

term known as cosmological constant. With this

extra term, he introduced a new repulsive force

and this allowed him to obtain a static universe

solution.

comes from observations of the centers of many

galaxies including our own. It is currently believed

that most if not all galaxies contain a supermassive

black hole at their centers. Sagittarius A* is a

bright and compact radio source at the center of

our own galaxy Milky Way which is believed

to be associated with the 2.6 million-solar-mass

supermassive black hole. In May 2004, 30

previously-hidden supermassive black holes

outside Milky Way have been discovered. This

discovery suggests that there are at least twice as

many of these black holes as previously thought.

Friedmann had used Einsteins original field

equations and obtained solutions describing

expanding universes. The next important step in

revealing the nature of the universe was taken by

Edwin Hubble. In 1929, Hubble discovered that

distant galaxies are receding from ours at a speed

proportional to their distance Hubbles law.

Hubbles observation is direct evidence that the

universe is expanding. Owing to Hubbles

discovery, Einstein later admitted that the

introduction of cosmological constant was the

greatest blunder of my life.

intermediate-mass black holes, those with masses

of a few hundred to a few thousand solar masses.

In 2000, the first intermediate-mass black holes

have been observed far from the center of the

galaxy M82. These black holes are probably

young and have masses between 100 and 1000

solar masses. The discovery of the first

intermediate-mass black hole in our galaxy has

been reported in 2004. This black hole of 1300

solar masses is orbiting three light-years from

Sagittarius A*. The discoveries of intermediatemass black holes provide missing link between

stellar mass black holes in binaries and the

supermassive black holes in the hearts of galaxies.

Figure 14 All stars will see all other stars moving away

from them in an expanding universe. A rising loaf of

raisin bread is a good visual model: each raisin will see

all other raisins moving away from it as the loaf

expands. 14

14

45

http://hyperphysics.phy-astr.gsu.edu/

In 1931, Georges Lematre, a Belgian priest and

mathematician, proposed that the universe may

have started with the explosion of a primeval atom

containing the total mass of the universe. The

observed expansion was caused by the explosion

of this cosmic atom. This explosion was later

called the Big Bang and this description of the

creation of the universe is now known as the Big

Bang model.

of the radiation, we can learn about conditions in

the universe on very large scales, since the

radiation we see today has traveled over such a

large distance, and the universe at very early

times. Observations of the cosmic background

radiation have continued, with the most

spectacular results coming from the Cosmic

Background Explorer (COBE) satellite launched

in 1989, as well as, the Wilkinson Microwave

Anisotropy Probe (WMAP) satellite launched in

2001.

worked out by Russian-born physicist, George

Gamow. He considered in detail how nuclear

reactions taking place after the Big Bang could

create the elements we have right now. Together

with Hans Bethe and his graduate student Ralph

Alpher, they realized that the Big Bang would be

expected to create lighter elements, hydrogen and

helium, in the correct proportions to explain their

abundance in the early universe. The abundance of

light elements is one of the primary pieces of

evidence for the Big Bang model.

universe. However, it fails to account some of the

basic questions about the universe. For instance, it

provides no clue on why the universe is being so

flat, what drives the expansion, etc. In 1981, MIT

physicist Alan Guth, came up the idea of the

inflationary universe. He proposed that the early

universe went through a period of extremely rapid

expansion. During this inflation epoch lasted

between 10-35 to 10-32 seconds after the Big Bang

the universe expanded in size by a factor of 1050

from smaller than an atom to bigger than a galaxy.

It was driven by vast amounts of energy released

when a symmetry breaking phase transition

occurred.

Earth was older than the universe. Partly

motivated by this problem, Fred Hoyle, Thomas

Gold and Hermann Bondi developed an alternative

model Steady State model to account for the

expansion of the universe. This involved the

continuous creation of matter and yielded a

continuously expanding universe with a constant

average density. In fact, it was Hoyle who coined

the name Big Bang for Lematres model.

The support of these two models was quite even

for a number of years. However, the discovery of

the cosmic background radiation has ruled out the

Steady State model. Gamow, Alpher and Robert

Herman have actually predicted the existence of

the cosmic background radiation in 1948.

However, it was Arno Penzias and Robert Wilson

at the Bell Telephone Laboratories in Murray Hill,

New Jersey, who accidentally discovered this

radiation in 1965. The radiation was acting as a

source of excess noise in a radio receiver they

were building. This cosmic background radiation

is now about 2.7 K corresponding to the

microwave portion of the electromagnetism

spectrum. Although it is invisible to the naked eye,

it fills the universe and can be detected

everywhere we look.

early universe. 15

struggle between the rate of expansion and the

average density of matter. The current rate of

expansion is measured by the Hubble constant. If

the average density of matter is less than the

critical density, which is proportional to the square

of the Hubble constant, then the universe will

only a few hundred thousand years after the Big

Bang, long before stars or galaxies ever existed.

15

46

http://hyperphysics.phy-astr.gsu.edu/

expand forever open universe. If the average

density of matter is greater than the critical

density, then the gravity will eventually win and

the universe will collapse back to itself, the so

called Big Crunch, closed universe. If the

average density of matter exactly equals to the

critical density, the rate of expansion will

asymptotically approach zero flat universe.

However, recent observations of distant supernova

have suggested that the expansion of the universe

is actually accelerating, which implies the

existence of a form of matter with a strong

negative pressure, such as the cosmological

constant. This strange form of matter is also

sometimes referred to as the dark energy. If dark

energy in fact plays a significant role in the

evolution of the universe, then in all likelihood the

universe will continue to expand forever.

3 years during his return. Bob will be 6 years older

when he gets back. Bob has time-travelled 4 years

into the future.

According to special relativity, time will slow

down if one moves faster and faster and

approaches the speed of light. If one could reach

the speed of light, time would stop. And, if one

could move even faster than speed of light, then

one, in principle, could go back to time.

Unfortunately, the speed of light is the ultimate

speed limit and one cannot go faster than it.

However, in general relativity, spacetime can

become so distorted that permits shortcuts through

spacetime. This would allow one to beat a light

beam and travel back to the past.

In 1988 Kip Thorne and his associates have

proposed the idea of taking a shortcut back in time

by traveling quickly through a wormhole. In a

nutshell, wormholes are tunnels connecting two

distant regions of spacetime. If one could take

such a shortcut, one could reach the destination

ahead of a light beam across curved space. In

principle, one could even be able to get back in

time to see oneself off.

Time Travel

No idea from science fiction has captured the

human imagination as much as time travel the

ability to travel to any point in the future or past.

One could go to the future to take a vacation or

even bring back a cure for cancer. One could also

go to the past to witness major historical events or

even meet historical figures.

Nowadays, the subject of time travel has jumped

from the pages of science fictions to the pages of

physics journals as physicists explore whether it

might be allowed by the laws of physics. The

paradoxes associated with time travel always pose

a challenge and allow physicists to test the

boundaries of current physical laws. In Newtons

universe, time travel was inconceivable. However,

it has become a real possibility in Einsteins

universe.

Earth and Alpha Centauri. 16

with one mouth near the Earth and the other near

Alpha Centauri. You could then reach Alpha

Centauri by taking the ordinary four-light-year

route or jumping thorugh the wormhole with lets

say 10 kilometers. If you dive from the Earth

through the wormhole in the year 2006, you might

perharps emerge at Alpha Centauri in the year

1996. You could now travel back to the Earth at a

very high speed so that you get back to Earth in

year 2000. You would have time-travelled 6 years

back into your past and could even shake hands

with yourself when you took off in the year 2006!

future. It is best illustrated through the famous

twin paradox. Suppose there are twin brothers

Albert and Bob. Albert stays on the Earth. Bob

takes off in a spaceship at 80 percent of the speed

of light to Alpha Centauri which is 4 light-years

away. Bobs trip there will take 5 Earth years.

However, Albert will see Bobs clock running

slower than his by 40 percents, Bob will age only

3 years during the trip. Bob turns around when he

reaches Alpha Centauri and returns to Earth again

at 80 percent of the speed of light. The return also

takes 5 Earth years. So, Albert is 10 years older

when Bob arrives back home. On the return trip,

Albert sees Bobs clock again running slower than

Houghton Mifflin (USA), 2001.

16

47

pulsar orbit by Doppler shifts of the pulse period

as the pulsar moves toward or away from us. Since

the discovery of the binary pulsar in 1974, timing

of the pulsar has shown that the stars are indeed

spiralling together just as predicted. In 300 million

years the stars will coalesce - that should produce

gravitational radiation that can be easily detected!

Figure 17 A warp drive creates a shortcut between the

Earth and Alpha Centauri via a U-shaped distortion in

spacetime. 17

been sought. Laser interferometer observatories

are being constructed that will be able to detect

gravitational waves from possible sources

potentially as far away as 100 million light years.

In 1992, Laser Interferometric Gravity-wave

Observatory (LIGO), a collaboration between

Caltech and MIT, began its search for cosmic

gravitational waves that are theoretically created in

supernova collapses of stellar cores, collisions and

coalescences of neutron stars or black holes and

the remnants of gravitational radiation created by

the birth of the universe. There are at least five

other projects among European, Australian,

Japanese, and Space Physicist groups constructing

other Gravitational-Wave Observatories. This

would open up a whole new observational window

on the universe.

wormhole. In Star Trek, the crew of the Enterprise

used warp drive to alter space so that they could

travel among stars at speed faster than that of light.

In simple terms, a warp drive creates a U-shaped

distortion in spacetime and hence a shortcut

between two distant regions. One could also use

warp drive to travel to the past just like the case in

wormhole.

Future Outlooks

General relativity also predicts gravitational waves

that move through space. Gravitational wave is the

gravitational counterpart of an electromagnetic

wave. Gravitational radiation results from changes

in the strength of a gravitational field. In principle,

a gravitational wave should be emitted at the speed

of light whenever any massive objects accelerate.

The passage of gravitational wave should produce

small distortions in the space through which it

passes. However, gravity is an exceedingly weak

force compared with electromagnetism, these

distortions are expected to be very small.

presence of gravitational waves, the distance between

the mirrors will fluctuate. 18

such strong support for the theory of relativity that

scientists are eager to search for them.

Gravitational waves have not yet been detected

directly, but we believe that they have been

detected indirectly by radio astronomers in the

binary pulsar system 1913+16. As the pulsar is

orbiting around its companion (every 8 hours in

this compact system), general relativity predicts

that gravitational waves should be produced.

Although these waves are far too faint to be

detected directly, the binary pulsar system is

losing energy through this radiation, and the

pulsar/neutron star and its companion are

predicted to be slowly spiralling together. The

rapid radio pulses permit precise timing of the

profoundly during the past century. We now have

two foundational pillars upon which modern

physics rests. One is Einsteins general relativity

which provides a theoretical framework for

unverstanding the universe on the largest scales:

stars, galaxies and beyond to the universe itself.

The other is quantum mechanics which provides

theoretical framework for understanding the

universe on the smallest scales: molecules, atoms

and all the way to subatomic particles like

electrons and quarks. Both theories have

tremendous success.

Houghton Mifflin (USA), 2001.

17

18

48

http://archive.ncsa.uiuc.edu/Cyberia/NumRel/LIGO.html

However, general relativity and quantum

mechanics cannot be both right there are

mutually incompatible. So far, physicists study

things that are either huge and heavy or things that

are small and light, but not both. For these cases,

physicists need only general relativity or only

quantum mechanics. Under certain extreme

conditions, where things are very massive and

very small near the center of the black hole or

the whole universe at the moment of the big bang

we require both general relativity and quantum

mechanics. Unfortunately, when we try to

combine general relativity and quantum

mechanics, their union brings violent catastrophe.

Physicists are now eager to search for a correct

theoretical framework quantum gravity to

unify these two foundational pillars for a deeper

understanding.

Further Readings

1. T. Hey and P. Walters, Einstein's Mirror,

Cambridge University Press (1997).

2. K. S. Thorne, Black Holes and Time Warps:

Einsteins Outrageous Legacy, W.W. Norton

(New York), 1994.

3. J. R. Gott, Time Travel in Einstein's

Universe: The physical Possibilities of Travel

through Time, Houghton Mifflin (Boston),

2001.

4. J. A. Wheeler, A Journey into Gravity and

Spacetime, Scientific American Books (New

York), 1990.

5. J. Schwinger, Einsteins Legacy: The Unity

of Space and Time, Scientific American

Books (New York), 1986.

6. C. M. Will, Was Einstein Right? Putting

General Relativity to the Test, 2nd Ed., Basic

Books (New York), 1986.

7. R. M. Wald, Space, Time and Gravity: The

Theory of the Big Bang and Black Holes, 2nd

Ed., University of Chicago Press (Chicago),

1992.

8. S. Weinberg, The First Three Minutes: A

Modern View of the Origin of the Universe,

2nd Ed., Basic Books (New York), 1993.

9. B. R. Greene, The Elegant Universe:

Superstrings, Hidden Dimensions, and the

Quest for the Ultimate Theory, W. W. Norton

(New York), 1999.

10. A. H. Guth, The Inflationary Universe: The

Quest for A New Theory of Cosmic Origins,

Perseus Books (Cambridge), 1997.

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