Saturday, July 05, 2008

Whaddya Know? Einstein's Right -- Again

We all agree that your theory is crazy, but is it crazy enough? ~ Niels Bohr

You've probably never heard of PSR J0737-3039A/B, but that's okay; it's never heard of you either. It turns out that
PSR J0737-3039A/B is a catalog number for the only known binary pulsars. It's a significant pair in that it has been used to confirm -- once again -- Einstein's theory of General Relativity.

Yes, yet again, old Albert has been shown to have been right.

In this particular instance, the prediction being tested was that an object in orbit around another would develop a wobble known as precession. Earth has such a wobble, a precession that causes the North Pole to point at a different star every 25,000 years or so. In a planetary system, what with collisions and all, precessions can come from a variety of sources, but in a pulsar pair, it's going to be caused by one thing: Gravity.

Using sophisticated techniques, astronomers confirmed that one member of the pulsar pair has just the precession predicted by Einstein. We should be used to this by now.

Trying to prove Einstein's General and Special theories of relativity to be wrong seems to have become a cottage industry in modern physics. I'm not sure why, but it probably has something to do with winning Nobel Prizes. People seldom win Nobels for confirming existing work. Disproving Einstein would be original work indeed, if anyone could do it. But, it has proved difficult.

Time dilation, physical compression in the direction of travel, frame drag, the warpage of space: The list goes on and on of things which have been observed directly. In fact, the same pulsar pair was used by the Jodrell Bank Observatory to verify gravitational redshift, Shapiro delay (an effect caused by the gravitational warpage of space and time; no, I don't know who Shapiro is), and gravitational radiation and decay.

Not too long ago, some yahoo had a program on the Science Channel, proposing once again the conundrum of the changing speed of light, a theory proposed about 10 or 11 years ago, which gets ressurected every few years. Basically, the program consisted of the guy doing his autobiography (explaining how brilliant he was), providing an overview of current cosmological thinking (done reasonably well), and then throwing out the old "variable speed of light" canard as new and original, implying that E=mc2 might have to be changed.

Which, even if the speed of light did change, would hardly be necessary.

It's all string theory's fault, you know.

Many physicists have invested time and grant money in this apparent dead-end, claiming that it will provide the long sought-after Grand Unified Theorem, while getting nothing from it. It's the flavor of the decade, and it's got little or nothing to show for all the time and effort spent on it. It's been so bad that a cottage industry in creating even goofier theories has sprung up. By the way, the linked article is the one where I first mentioned the Jodrell Bank data.

Now I'm not saying that scientists should quit trying to come up with new theories or that they should accept everything Einstein or Newton or any other great theorist ever said without question. But, when something doesn't work, it's time to move on.

The string is broken already. Find something new to work on.

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