Science

Star orbiting massive black hole lends support to Einstein's theory

Star orbiting massive black hole lends support to Einstein's theory”

It's been over 100 years since Albert Einstein published his general theory of relativity.

UCLA researchers co-led by Tuan Do and Andrea Ghez, professors of physics and astronomy at UCLA, made direct measurements of general relativity near a supermassive black hole at the center of the Milky Way and found Einstein's theory still stands.

"It can not fully explain gravity inside a black hole, and at some point we will need to move beyond Einstein's theory to a more comprehensive theory of gravity that explains what a black hole is". After 24 years of observations that measured the star's precise positions and the wavelengths of its light, astronomers have shown Einstein's predictions, once again, hold up. "We can absolutely rule out Newton's law of gravity". The results are consistent with general relativity and substantially favor the theory over Newtonian gravity, which can not account for the observed redshift.

However, Ghez notes that Einstein's theory is showing vulnerability as it can't fully explain the gravity inside the black hole.

What's more, the special theory of relativity, which clarifies why people traveling at different speeds see time and space differently, says that the speed of the star will make the light bluer when moving toward us and redder when moving ceaselessly. "That's what gives us the entry ticket into the tests of general relativity".

"Measuring gravitational redshift around a supermassive black hole is really the beginning of a new era of testing general relativity", said Lu, who worked with Ghez as a PhD student in 2003.

That complete orbit takes 16 years.

In 2018, the researchers gathered data by looking at a "rainbow of light" emitting from called S0-2 while it approached Sagittarius A* at its closest proximity.

Then, they combined these spectral observations with observations from 1995 to 2017 to reconstruct the entire orbit of the star in three dimensions.

The team's results are consistent with general relativity and substantially favor the theory over Newtonian gravity, which can not account for the observed redshift. It's the culmination of more than two decades of work in the area.

The National Science Foundation has funded Ghez's research for the last 25 years. This allowed the researchers to determine precise measurements of the star's motion as one dimension and combine those with images and observations of the star taken at Keck. "Through their rigorous efforts, Ghez and her collaborators have produced a high-significance validation of Einstein's idea about strong gravity".

Scientists followed a star orbiting so near the black hole that the black hole's intense gravity influences the light it emits.

The team tracked particles of light called photons that traveled from the star to Earth over 26,000 years. "For us, it's visceral, it's now - but it actually happened 26,000 years ago!" The gravity this generates is vast, creating the most extreme environment in the Milky Way.

Image of the orbits of stars around the supermassive black hole at the centre of our galaxy. "It's easy to be overconfident and there are many ways to misinterpret the data, many ways that small errors can accumulate into significant mistakes, which is why we did not rush our analysis". For more than twenty years the unit has supported Ghez in her work. Each laser creates an artificial star that can be used to correct for the blurring due to the Earth's atmosphere.

The UC team followed the star SO-2, which is far enough from the event horizon to still be visible.



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