This week in the universe, mankind’s search to verify Einstein’s theory of relativity moved one more step closer to completion. Almost 90 years after Albert Einstein first expressed his general theory of relativity, scientists have finished collecting data to verify the theory.

NASA Launched the space mission called Gravity Probe B on April 20, 2004, from Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif. I recall watching the “candle light” on the Delta II rocket that afternoon as the flawless space launch hurtled the experiment into space. As the bright rocket flame disappeared into the clear afternoon sunlight, I wondered what Einstein would think of our progress and the current focus on verifying his theories.



Was Einstein correct?

Gravity Probe B has been using four spherical gyroscopes to precisely measure two extraordinary effects predicted by Einstein’s theory. One measures the geodetic effect, the amount by which the Earth warps the local space time in which it resides. The other gyroscope measures a thing called frame-dragging, which is the amount by which the rotating Earth drags local space time around with it.

NASA’s Gravity Probe B satellite has been orbiting the Earth for more than 17 months. It used the ultra-precise gyroscopes to generate the data required for this unprecedented test. Fifty weeks worth of data has been downloaded from the spacecraft and relayed to computers in the Mission Operations Center at Stanford University, Stanford, Calif.

Scientists have begun the painstaking task of data analysis and validation, which is expected to take approximately one year.

In a recent NASA news release, Francis Everitt, the experiment’s principal investigator said, “This has been a tremendous mission for all of us. With all the data gathered, we are proceeding deliberately to ensure everything is checked and re-checked. NASA and Stanford can be proud of what has been achieved so far.”



So what?

So what if we prove that space bends like a trampoline when you drop a cue ball on it?

Beyond just proving or disproving Einstein’s theory, the implications of this science are huge. If indeed we see that massive objects in space can cause the progress of time to change, then all the arguments regarding the nature of the universe start to really make sense.

In a world filled with so much that is not understood, like violence, hatred, and intolerance, it’s very comforting to know that the nature of the universe itself is starting to come into focus.

Max Corneau is a NASA/JPL Solar System Ambassador, was the first fully qualified Army Reserve Space Operations Officer and currently Lieutenant Colonel in the Army Reserve. He is an avid amateur astronomer and member of the Texas Astronomical Society and the Astronomical League.a