"99 years of proof: Albert Einstein is still right after decades of verification
By Bill Tammeus
People who care even half a fig about science — me, for instance — this year will celebrate the 99th anniversary of the publication of Albert Einstein's papers containing most of his great theories.
We'd wait a year to celebrate the 100th anniversary except we know that life is fickle and we're not guaranteed even tomorrow. So we'll raise a toast this year to 1905, which was also the year Einstein earned a doctorate.
The thing about Einstein that sets my socks aflame is that he's not just an interesting historical figure. Rather, he's the reason thousands and thousands of scientists have jobs today. Around the globe, researchers galore work long and odd hours trying to verify what Einstein proposed. Time and again, it turns out, they discover that what Einstein guessed was happening in this strange cosmos is exactly what's happening.
The old boy may have been a little eccentric-looking, but since when do odd looks mean someone is daft, a head case, a meshugena? Looking hair-brained doesn't mean you're harebrained.
Hardly a week passes that doesn't bring news of some new confirmation of Einstein's work. I became a journalist instead of a physicist because I'm math-challenged, so I don't understand a lot of the science news I read. But it's still clear to me that Einstein was amazingly prophetic, to say nothing of being right most of the time. Never mind his hair.
This fall, for instance, researchers at Duke University and the University of Arizona found evidence that Einstein was right in his Special Theory of Relativity when he declared that information cannot travel faster than the speed of light in a vacuum. (In the vacuum I sometimes get roped into using, things occasionally don't travel at all because of a blockage in the hose, but never mind that.)
I read some of the details about the smooth blips of light known as Gaussian pulses these scientists used to figure all this out, but I had to quit before my cranium blew up. However, I did understand this sentence in a press release from the University of Arizona: "Einstein does, in fact, continue to be right."
Imagine, 50 years after your death, someone issuing that statement with your name in it instead of Einstein's. I have trouble imagining anyone saying that about me 50 days after my death. Except, maybe, about the previous sentence.
Just a few weeks ago, this news flashed through cyberspace: Scientists have determined that Einstein's principle of the constancy of the speed of light is still a reliable guide to reality.
"What Einstein worked out with a pencil and paper nearly a century ago continues to hold up to scientific scrutiny," said Floyd Stecker of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md.
That pencil and piece of paper should be in one of the Smithsonian museums in Washington. Maybe it is, though I was there a couple of months ago and didn't see them. I did, however, see the red shoes Judy Garland wore in "The Wizard of Oz." This was the second time in my life that I've seen those shoes in person. I'm tired of them, though I bet light reflects off of them at the speed of light.
Stecker and some colleagues observed high-energy gamma rays to figure out that, once more, Einstein knew his stuff. Their work required them to test such concepts as the "Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle" and the "Lorentz Invariance." I'm uncertain and at variance about how to explain them to you, so I'll let you look them up.
Other recent scientific work indicated Einstein's Theory of General Relativity was right in predicting that the gravitational pull of a massive body (no, not Shaq) can behave like a lens that bends and distorts light coming from a distant object.
A team from the Sloan Digital Sky Survey reported that light from a quasar split into four separate images because of this "gravitational lensing" effect.
This kind of confirmation has become so routine that I have almost ceased to be amazed by the amazing Einstein. Even something he once called his biggest blunder — a fudge factor he dreamed up (and then later abandoned) to help explain the expansion of the universe — turned out, decades after his death, to be right.
Einstein's birthday is March 14. Plan to toast him then — unless, of course, it interferes with your celebration of the 171st birthday that day of America's first female dentist, Lucy Hobbs Taylor. Or unless the speed of light slows to a crawl."
Let us get together to greet this great soul.
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