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Was Albert Einstein’s Theory of Relativity Wrong?

Albert Einstein

Did Albert Einstein get it wrong with his Theory of Relativity? A group of researchers at the University of Waterloo and the University of British Columbia say they just might have. The British and Canadian scientists discovered what they call a potential “cosmic glitch” in the universe’s gravity, explaining its strange behavior on a cosmic scale, which could prove Einstein wrong.

This has to do with new capabilities that allow for observing the universe in a larger scale. This has let astronomers observe how galaxies interact with one another due to their respective gravitational forces.

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“The farther away galaxies are, the faster they are moving, to the point that they seem to be moving at nearly the speed of light, the maximum allowed by Einstein’s theory,” said Niayesh Afshordi, a professor of astrophysics at the University of Waterloo. “Our finding suggests that, on those very scales, Einstein’s theory may also be insufficient.”

Albert Einstein’s theory of “general relativity” has been around for a century and explains how gravity works throughout the universe. General relativity, proven accurate by countless tests and observations, suggests that gravity impacts not simply three physical dimensions but also a fourth dimension: time.

“This model of gravity has been essential for everything from theorizing the Big Bang to photographing black holes,” said Robin Wen, the lead author on the project and a recent Waterloo Mathematical Physics graduate.

“But when we try to understand gravity on a cosmic scale, at the scale of galaxy clusters and beyond, we encounter apparent inconsistencies with the predictions of general relativity. It’s almost as if gravity itself stops perfectly matching Einstein’s theory. We are calling this inconsistency a ‘cosmic glitch’: gravity becomes around one per cent weaker when dealing with distances in the billions of light years.”

General relativity, developed by Albert Einstein in 1915, is our current understanding of gravity. Imagine space-time as a giant, four-dimensional fabric. This fabric isn’t flat, but rather warped by the presence of mass and energy. So, gravity is something that changes the space around it.

According to general relativity, gravity isn’t a force pulling objects together. Instead, massive objects warp the space-time fabric around them. The more massive the object, the greater the curvature. Objects, including light, move along the curved paths created by the warped space-time. This is why objects seem to be attracted to each other – they’re simply following the curvature. The theory predicts that light bends around massive objects, which was confirmed during a solar eclipse in 1919.

General relativity suggests the existence of gravitational waves, ripples in space-time caused by accelerating massive objects. These waves were finally detected in 2015.

The research team’s new model of a “cosmic glitch” modifies and extends Einstein’s mathematical formulas in a way that resolves the inconsistency of some of the cosmological measurements without affecting existing successful uses of general relativity.

“Think of it as being like a footnote to Einstein’s theory,” Wen said. “Once you reach a cosmic scale, terms and conditions apply.”

“This new model might just be the first clue in a cosmic puzzle we are starting to solve across space and time,” Afshordi said.

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