Home Features Best of 2011 Best of 2011 // 82: Gravity Probe B Measures SpaceTime

Best of 2011 // 82: Gravity Probe B Measures SpaceTime

Best of 2011 // 82: Gravity Probe B Measures SpaceTime

Gravity Probe B, a $700 million satellite launched in 2004, has four almost perfectly spherical gyroscopes onboard, isolated from all outside influences: magnetic fields, gravity, friction etc.  That leaves them exposed to only relativistic effects.  Einstein’s theory of special relativity predicts that the orientation of these gyroscopes should slowly drift due to tow different phenomena: the geodetic effect – Earth’s warping of space-time due to it’s mass – and frame-dragging, or the tug on space-time that occurs as earth rotates on it’s axis.

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In May, after trying for the past six years to understand odd anomalies in the gyroscope’s spin, Francis Everitt, astrophysicist at Stanford University reported that the gyroscopes were preforming as Einstein’s theory predicted.  That report was issued with some wide-spread concerns over a 19 percent margin of error with the frame-dragging measurement, but Everitt is sure of the results.

“This was the most powerful test ever conducted to confirm general relativity,”

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