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New Scientist The Collection Einstein’s Universe

New Scientist covers discoveries and ideas in science and technology that will change your life and the way you understand the world. New Scientist employs and commissions the best writers in their fields to provide in-depth but accessible coverage of the developments that matter. New Scientist: The Collection is a themed compilation of recent articles and special reports from our back catalogue, providing a book-length examination of some of the deepest questions known to humanity.

United Kingdom
New Scientist Ltd
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everything’s relative

IN A few short years in the early 20th century, an iconoclastic young physicist transformed our understanding of the universe. With his special and general theories of relativity, Albert Einstein overturned the solid certainty that was Newton’s clockwork universe and replaced it with a picture that defied common sense. His work brought us the famous equation E=mc , defined light as the cosmic speed limit, unified space and time, redefined gravity and ushered in the idea that the universe began in a hot, dense fireball we now call the big bang.These insights later gave rise to some of the most intriguing and mind-boggling ideas in modern physics: black holes, time travel, dark matter and dark energy. Today’s physicists are still wrestling with his revelations and their consequences. Only last year…

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a very special theory

A young patent examiner ready to change the universe (PHOTO12/UIG VIA GETTY IMAGES)“ A STORM broke loose in my mind.” This was how Albert Einstein felt when inspiration finally struck about how to solve a problem he had been wrestling with for years. That storm has been provoking thunderous revelations ever since.It was 1905 and Einstein was working as an examiner in the patent office in Bern, Switzerland. The job did not give him easy access to scientific journals and conferences, but it gave him plenty of time to think. And that was all he needed.Einstein’s problem was this: if two people are moving relative to one another, do the laws of physics seem the same to both?To 19th-century physicists, the answer was a resounding “yes”. Say I am…

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general relativity: a primer

“Space tells matter how to move and matter tells space how to curve”John Archibald WheelerAlbert Einstein’s general theory of relativity is one of the towering achievements of 20th-century physics. Published in 1915, it explains that what we perceive as the force of gravity in fact arises from the curvature of space and time.Einstein proposed that objects such as the sun and Earth change this geometry. In the presence of matter and energy, space-time can evolve, stretch and warp, forming ridges, mountains and valleys that cause bodies moving through it to zigzag and curve. So although Earth appears to be pulled towards the sun by gravity, there is no such force. It is simply the geometry of space-time around the sun telling Earth how to move.The general theory of relativity has…

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how general relativity shapes our universe

“No black holes have been seen directly yet, though there is overwhelming evidence that they exist”BLACK HOLES Shortly after Einstein proposed his general theory of relativity, a German physicist called Karl Schwarzschild found one of the first and most important solutions to Einstein’s field equations. Now known as the Schwarzschild solution, it describes the geometry of space-time around extremely dense stars – and it has some very strange features.For a start, right at the centre of such bodies, the curvature of space-time becomes infinite – forming a feature called a singularity. An even stranger feature is an invisible spherical surface, known as the event horizon, surrounding the singularity. Nothing, not even light, can escape the event horizon. You can almost think of the Schwarzschild singularity as a hole in the…

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frontiers of general relativity

The LIGO detectors pick up gravitational waves ringing through space“It is possible to build tunnels linking different parts of space and different parts of time – in theory, at least”GRAVITATIONAL WAVES According to general relativity, even empty space-time, devoid of stars and galaxies, can have a life of its own. Ripples known as gravitational waves can propagate across space in much the same way that ripples spread across the surface of a pond.Until very recently, the direct detection of gravitational waves was the biggest remaining test of general relativity. But in 2016, the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) at Hanford, Washington, and Livingston, Louisiana, finally nailed them (see page 65). LIGO consists of laser beams that are reflected between mirrors 4 kilometres apart. When a gravitational wave passes through, it…

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how to think about space-time

OFTEN described as the fabric of reality, space-time is a four-dimensional amalgamation of two entities that were once thought of as separate: space and time. It is all around us, but we cannot see it. So what is it?A popular way of envisaging space-time is as a stretchy rubber sheet that deforms when a mass is placed on it. The resulting curvature is analogous to the warping of space-time by gravity.It’s a picture that might lead us to believe space-time is itself something physical or tangible. For most physicists, though, space-time itself is a lot more abstract – a purely mathematical backdrop for the unfolding drama of the cosmos.Physicist Martin Bojowald of Penn State University in Philadelphia sees it as a mathematical entity called a manifold. The equations of general…