Surprise! A 16-Year Study of a Double Pulsar System Proved Einstein Right

Loukia Papadopoulos

In September 2019, we brought you the news that a team of astronomers had proven that theoretical physicist Albert Einstein's genera; theory of relativity held true by using the observations of a dead star. By studying PSR J1906+0746, a pulsar 25,000 light-years away, for 14 years at that time, the scientists had proven yet again that the genius was correct.

Now, using telescopes around the world, an international team of scientists has completed the most challenging tests yet of Einstein’s theory, according to a press release from CSIRO, the radio telescope.

“The theory of general relativity describes how gravity works at large scales in the Universe, but it breaks down at the atomic scale where quantum mechanics reigns supreme,” Dr. Dick Manchester, a Fellow at Australia’s national science agency, CSIRO, and a member of the research team, said.

A cosmic laboratory

“We needed to find ways of testing Einstein’s theory at an intermediate scale to see if it still holds true. Fortunately, just the right cosmic laboratory, known as the ‘double pulsar’, was found using the Parkes telescope in 2003. Our observations of the double pulsar over the past 16 years proved to be amazingly consistent with Einstein’s general theory of relativity, within 99.99 percent to be precise."

The double pulsar system the researchers studied was made up of two pulsar stars, one rotating 45 times every second and the other just 2.8 times per second. The two pulsars are predicted to collide in 85 million years’ time.

Because the researchers could not trace such a long time, they analyzed the clock-like ticks coming from the spinning pulsars that had taken around 2,400 years to reach Earth. The scientists modeled the arrival times of more than 20 billion of these clock ticks over 16 years.

Next, they needed to know how far away the pulsar system was to test general relativity. They estimated that distance by using data from the Very Long Baseline Array — a network of telescopes spread across the globe. In the end, they concluded that Einstein's theory still holds true in this star system, proving yet again that the physicist was right.