The General Theory Of Relativity

Eddington had started his astronomical research some years before, in the climate of excitement surrounding Einstein's GTR, which was issued in dribs and drabs before being finalized in 1916. One story often retold is that at a scientific meeting someone mentioned to him that he must be one of only three people who understood relativity, this resulting in Eddington looking puzzled. When chided not to be so modest, his reply was "On the contrary, I am trying to think who the third person might be."

The GTR was viewed as being hugely complicated and disbelieved by many. It presented an entirely new concept of the universe, in which space—time is warped by the presence of matter. This notion always gives trouble to people because they think that their everyday experiences of the physical world can be translated into a comprehension of how the whole universe behaves. This is simply wrong. Einstein's theory was revolutionary in that it said that the shape of space itself is changed by the distribution of matter. This has various concomitant effects, such as clocks going slower (time itself being slowed down) if they are in the proximity of a large mass, or if they are moving through space at a high speed.

If Einstein's theory was to be accepted, it had to demonstrate that it could predict or explain some observed phenomenon when the Newtonian theory could not. It was quickly realized that a previously known anomaly in the orbital motion of Mercury was explicable with the relativistic theory. (This had been a long-standing puzzle, as we will see in Chapter 13.) Einstein's opponents argued that this was a convoluted matter that might be resolved in some other way without recourse to relativity theory. A simpler demonstration of the truth of relativity was required, and Eddington recognized that a total solar eclipse provided a possibility.

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