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Einstein’s theory was proved a century ago today

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By Alexander J Martin, technology reporter

A century ago today a British astronomer verified one of the most revolutionary scientific ideas to have ever been proposed: Albert Einstein's general theory of relativity.

Astronomer Sir Arthur Eddington organised an expedition to the town of Sobral in eastern Brazil in order to observe a total eclipse on the 29 May 1919, long before such journeys could be taken easily.

His team aimed to take advantage of the moon blocking the sun so they could measure the positions of the stars around it, something which isn't normally possible due to the sun's brightness.

Image: Einstein's theory of general relativity has set the stage for numerous inventions

If Einstein's theory was correct, these stars would appear to be closer together than they appeared normally at night because the light from them would be bent as it passed through space which had been contorted by sun's enormous gravity.

The Sobral viewing and another expedition at the same time to the island of Principe on the west coast of Africa verified Einstein's theory perfectly, and it put Einstein's name on the front page of newspapers around the world.

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The idea that light itself was subject to gravity and did not always travel in a straight line had profound ramifications for humanity's understanding of the universe.

Space itself was no longer the geometric plane suggested by classical mechanics as formulated by Sir Isaac Newton, thought of like a table necessary to roll a ball over.

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