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Testing Einstein's general relativity near supermassive black hole

28 July 2018

Albert Einstein's theory of general relativity has passed another test.

The star's wavelength stretched as it sought to escape the gravitational pull of the supermassive black hole, shifting its appearance from blue to red, Odele Straub from the Paris Observatory said.

It was all observed using the Very Large Telescope array in the Chilean desert. The gravitational fields near this black hole are quite strong.

The close approach of a star near a supermassive black hole at the center of our Galaxy provided the first opportunity to directly test General relativity in extreme gravitational fields. Thanks to this precision, the movement of the star could be detected hour by hour as close as possible to the black hole.

"More than 100 years after he published his paper setting out the equations of general relativity, Einstein has been proved right once more - in a much more extreme laboratory than he could have possibly imagined", said the ESO in a statement.

Erin VanDyke lives on her family farm and has more than 35 years of hands-on experience with the use of livestock guard dogs for predator control.

Cosmic swarm of bees: The simulation shows the star trajectories near the supermassive black hole at the heart of the Milky Way.

The black hole responsible was Sagittarius A* (pronounced "Sagittarius A-star"), the supermassive black hole at the center of our Milky Way galaxy.

Information was observed by and collected with the GRAVITY, SINFONI, and NACO instruments on ESO's Very Large Telescope (VLT). This gravitational monster is surrounded by a group of stars orbiting around it at high speed.

"In sport, you would say it was 1-0 for Einstein", Frank Eisenhauer of Germany's Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics told the BBC.

Genzel says this is the second time the team observed S2 making its closest pass to Sagittarius A*.

They compared the position and speed estimations from GRAVITY and SINFONI individually, alongside past observations of S2 utilizing different instruments, with the predictions of Newtonian gravity, general relativity and different hypotheses of gravity. The star takes 16 years to complete one orbit and was very close to the black hole in May 2018.

The shortest distance between S2 and the black hole, on 19 May, was approximately 14 billion kilometres.

The results were perfectly in line with the theory of general relativity - and not explained by Sir Isaac Newton's ideas - which exclude such a shift. Astronomers use Gravity to make extraordinarily precise measurements of the changing position of S2, and thus also of the shape of its orbit. Among these instruments was an interferometer which combines the light from four 8-meter telescopes known as the GRAVITY. That black hole goes by the name Sagittarius A*, and it is constantly the subject of studies by researchers around the world, here on Earth.

Ongoing observations of S2 may confirm yet another prediction from relativity theory - slight changes in the star's orbit known as Schwarzschild precession - as the star moves outward from the black hole.

Researchers believe that, as observations of how light behaves even closer to a black hole, some of Einstein's theories may come up short.

Testing Einstein's general relativity near supermassive black hole