General relativity: Two-dimensional analogy of spacetime distortion generated by the mass of an object. Matter changes the geometry of spacetime, this (curved) geometry being interpreted as gravity. White lines do not represent the curvature of space but instead represent the coordinate system imposed on the curved spacetime, which would be rectilinear in a flat
In the most common sense, gravitation or gravity is the agent that gives weight to objects with mass and causes them to fall to the ground when dropped.
In the scientific sense, gravitation is a natural phenomenon by which physical bodies appear to attract each other with a force proportional to their masses. The phenomenon of gravitation itself, however, is a byproduct of a more fundamental phenomenon described by general relativity, which suggests that
spacetime is curved according to the presence of matter through a yet-to-be discovered mechanism.
Gravitation is one of the four fundamental interactions of nature, along with electromagnetism, and the nuclear strong force and weak force. In modern physics, the phenomenon of gravitation is most accurately described by the general theory of relativity by Einstein, in which the phenomenon itself is a consequence of the curvature of spacetime governing the motion of inertial objects. The simpler Newton's law of universal gravitation provides an accurate approximation for most physical situations including calculations as critical as spacecraft trajectory.
From a cosmological perspective, gravitation causes dispersed matter to coalesce, and coalesced matter to remain intact, thus accounting for the existence of planets, stars, galaxies and most of the macroscopic objects in the universe. It is responsible for keeping the Earth and the other planets in their orbits around the Sun; for keeping the Moon in its orbit around the Earth; for the formation of tides; for natural convection, by which fluid flow occurs under the influence of a density gradient and gravity; for heating the interiors of forming stars and planets to very high temperatures; and for various other phenomena observed on Earth and throughout the universe.
In 1687, English mathematician Sir Isaac Newton published Principia, which hypothesizes the inverse-square law of universal gravitation. In his own words, “I deduced that the forces which keep the planets in their orbs must [be] reciprocally as the squares of their distances from the centers about which they revolve: and thereby compared the force requisite to keep the Moon in her Orb with the force of gravity at the surface of the Earth; and found them answer pretty nearly.”
Newton's theory enjoyed its greatest success when it was used to predict the existence of
Neptune based on motions of Uranus that could not be accounted for by the actions of the other planets. Calculations by both John Couch Adams and Urbain Le Verrier predicted the general position of the planet, and Le Verrier's calculations are what led Johann Gottfried Galle to the discovery of Neptune.
A discrepancy in Mercury's orbit pointed out flaws in Newton's theory. By the end of the 19th century, it was known that its orbit showed slight perturbations that could not be accounted for entirely under Newton's theory, but all searches for another perturbing body (such as a planet orbiting the
Sun even closer than Mercury) had been fruitless. The issue was resolved in 1915 by Albert Einstein's new theory of general relativity, which accounted for the small discrepancy in Mercury's orbit.
Although Newton's theory has been superseded, most modern non-relativistic gravitational calculations are still made using Newton's theory because it is a much simpler theory to work with than general relativity, and gives sufficiently accurate results for most applications involving sufficiently small masses, speeds and energies.
The equivalence principle, explored by a succession of researchers including Galileo, Loránd Eötvös, and Einstein, expresses the idea that all objects fall in the same way. The simplest way to test the weak equivalence principle is to drop two objects of different masses or compositions in a vacuum, and see if they hit the ground at the same time. These experiments demonstrate that all objects fall at the same rate when friction (including air resistance) is negligible. More sophisticated tests use a torsion balance of a type invented by Eötvös. Satellite experiments, for example STEP, are planned for more accurate experiments in space.
Formulations of the equivalence principle include:
The weak equivalence principle: The trajectory of a point mass in a gravitational field depends only on its initial position and velocity, and is independent of its composition.
The Einsteinian equivalence principle: The outcome of any local non-gravitational experiment in a freely falling laboratory is independent of the velocity of the laboratory and its location in spacetime.
The strong equivalence principle requiring both of the above.
In general relativity, the effects of gravitation are ascribed to spacetime curvature instead of a force. The starting point for general relativity is the equivalence principle, which equates free fall with inertial motion, and describes free-falling inertial objects as being accelerated relative to non-inertial observers on the ground. In Newtonian physics, however, no such acceleration can occur unless at least one of the objects is being operated on by a force.
Einstein proposed that spacetime is curved by matter, and that free-falling objects are moving along locally straight paths in curved spacetime. These straight paths are called geodesics. Like Newton's first law of motion, Einstein's theory states that if a force is applied on an object, it would deviate from a geodesic. For instance, we are no longer following geodesics while standing because the mechanical resistance of the Earth exerts an upward force on us, and we are non-inertial on the ground as a result. This explains why moving along the geodesics in spacetime is considered inertial.
Einstein discovered the field equations of general relativity, which relate the presence of matter and the curvature of spacetime and are named after him. The Einstein field equations are a set of 10 simultaneous, non-linear, differential equations. The solutions of the field equations are the components of the metric tensor of spacetime. A metric tensor describes a geometry of spacetime. The geodesic paths for a spacetime are calculated from the metric tensor.
Notable solutions of the Einstein field equations include:
* The Schwarzschild solution, which describes spacetime surrounding a spherically symmetric non-rotating uncharged massive object. For compact enough objects, this solution generated a black hole with a central singularity. For radial distances from the center which are much greater than the Schwarzschild radius, the accelerations predicted by the Schwarzschild solution are practically identical to those predicted by Newton's theory of gravity.
* The Reissner-Nordström solution, in which the central object has an electrical charge. For charges with a geometrized length which are less than the geometrized length of the mass of the object, this solution produces black holes with two event horizons.
The Kerr solution for rotating massive objects. This solution also produces black holes with multiple event horizons.
* The Kerr-Newman solution for charged, rotating massive objects. This solution also produces black holes with multiple event horizons.
* The cosmological Friedmann-Lemaitre-Robertson-Walker solution, which predicts the expansion of the universe.
The tests of general relativity included the following:
General relativity accounts for the anomalous perihelion precession of Mercury.2
The prediction that time runs slower at lower potentials has been confirmed by the Pound–Rebka experiment, the Hafele–Keating experiment, and the GPS.
The prediction of the deflection of light was first confirmed by Arthur Stanley Eddington from his observations during the Solar eclipse of May 29, 1919. Eddington measured starlight deflections twice those predicted by Newtonian corpuscular theory, in accordance with the predictions of general relativity. However, his interpretation of the results was later disputed. More recent tests using radio interferometric measurements of quasars passing behind the Sun have more accurately and consistently confirmed the deflection of light to the degree predicted by general relativity.
The time delay of light passing close to a massive object was first identified by Irwin I. Shapiro in 1964 in interplanetary spacecraft signals.
Gravitational radiation has been indirectly confirmed through studies of binary pulsars.
Alexander Friedmann in 1922 found that Einstein equations have non-stationary solutions (even in the presence of the cosmological constant). In 1927 Georges Lemaître showed that static solutions of the Einstein equations, which are possible in the presence of the cosmological constant, are unstable, and therefore the static universe envisioned by Einstein could not exist. Later, in 1931, Einstein himself agreed with the results of Friedmann and Lemaître. Thus general relativity predicted that the Universe had to be non-static—it had to either expand or contract. The expansion of the universe discovered by Edwin Hubble in 1929 confirmed this prediction.
The theory's prediction of frame dragging was consistent with the recent Gravity Probe B results.
General relativity predicts that light should lose its energy when travelling away from the massive bodies. The group of Radek Wojtak of the Niels Bohr Institute at the University of Copenhagen collected data from 8000 galaxy clusters and found that the light coming from the cluster centers tended to be red-shifted compared to the cluster edges, confirming the energy loss due to gravity.
Gravity and quantum
In the decades after the discovery of general relativity it was realized that general relativity is incompatible with quantum mechanics. It is possible to describe gravity in the framework of quantum field theory like the other fundamental forces, such that the attractive force of gravity arises due to exchange of virtual gravitons, in the same way as the
electromagnetic force arises from exchange of virtual photons. This reproduces general relativity in the classical limit. However, this approach fails at short distances of the order of the Planck length, where a more complete theory of quantum gravity (or a new approach to quantum mechanics) is required.
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