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Study of rare star system confirms Einstein’s theory of relativity

A newly discovered star system seems to have provided additional evidence in support for Albert Einstein’s theory of relativity.

Einstein’s theory of relativity, which states objects with mass cause a curvature in space and time, seems to have met expectations in its more difficult test to date.

Einstein’s theory, presented in 1915, remains one of the fundamental laws of physics. The law, which does well in explaining how objects operate on a large level (stars, planets, etc.), consistently breaks down when match against the law of quantum mechanics.  When applied to extremely large and dense objects, such as black holes, the two laws contradict each other, presenting physicists with a challenge.

According to astronomers, a pair of stars orbiting each other seems to backup Einstein’s theory. The pair of stars, located nearly 7,000 light-years from Earth, create one of the most intense gravitational systems ever observed.  One of the stars is a white dwarf, according to astronomers, while the other star is one of the densest neutron stars ever discovered, creating a gravitation field 300 billion times stronger than that on Earth. The latter is twice as heavy as the sun, but just 12 miles (20 kilometres) across.

Scientists say the pair of stars creates a rare scenario in which the gravitational field created by the pulsar, dubbed PSR J0348+0432,  is so strong it causes deviations in the white dwarf’s motion. Einstein’s theory posits that a close binary system will radiate gravitational energy in the form of ripples in spacetime called gravitational waves. As a result, the binary slowly loses energy, the stars move closer, and the orbital period shortens as predicted by Einstein.

Working with the European Southern Observatory’s (ESO), astronomers were able to observe gravitational ripples in space via the star’s motion, providing data that seems to prove Einstein’s theory. According to observations, small additions in mass seems to result in significant changes in the spacetime around such objects.

The conclusion followed a delicate dance by astronomers, who, using the Very Large Telescope, were able to track  the precise timing of the pulsar. The data is considered some of the most precise ever collected, say astronomers.

“Our radio observations were so precise that we have already been able to measure a change in the orbital period of 8 millionths of a second per year, exactly what Einstein’s theory predicts,” states Paulo Freire, a co-author of the study.

While the observation does not provide physicists with a solution to the fundamental gravity quandary, it does show astronomers can track perturbations in space-time caused by passing gravitational waves. In addition, astronomers noted that this system seems to have presented the most significant challenge to Einstein’s theory.

It remains unclear whether additional studies of the star system are planned. Astronomers say the star system could provide additional data on how dense objects influence orbiting objects.