Writing  Sample   Gravity  Probe  B:  Relatively  Important?       Gravity  Probe  B:  Relatively  Important?   Link:   http://www.skyandtelescope.

com/community/skyblog/newsblog/121390204.html       You  may  have  read  Wednesday's  news:  Albert  Einstein,  Time  magazine’s  “Man  of  the   Twentieth  Century,”  indeed  did  not  goof  up  when  he  put  forth  the  theory  of  general   relativity.       NASA’s   $750   million   satellite   Gravity   Probe   B   proved   that   time   and   space   do   curve   near  massive  objects  like  Earth,  and  also  that  space  and  time  are  dragged  along  a  tiny   trace  by  Earth’s  rotation.     But  wait  a  minute!  Didn’t  we  already  know  this?  To  high  precision?       The  truth  is,  we  did.  The  LAGEOS  satellites,  lunar  ranging,  the  Cassini  mission’s  radio   experiment,  and  binary  pulsars,  to  name  just  a  few,  have  all  verified  general  relativity   -­‐   including   these   two   particular   predictions   -­‐   sometimes   to   much   higher   accuracy   than  Gravity  Probe  B.     At   least   Gravity   Probe   B   will   go   down   in   history   for   being   the   only   experiment   to   prove  Einstein  right  in  one  particular  way  so  close  his  home  planet.     GP-­‐B   was   the   child   of   five   decades   of   lobbying,   planning,   and   execution.   It   was   conceived   in   1959   and   launched   in   2004   to   test   two   predictions   of   general   relativity.   The   first,   the   “geodetic   effect,”   describes   the   dent   that   Earth   causes   in   the   fabric   of   spacetime  because  of  its  mass.  For  a  two-­‐dimensional  analogy,  think  of  a  bowling  ball   sitting  on  a  trampoline.         The  second  is  “frame-­‐dragging,”  which  Joseph  Lense  and  Hans  Thirring  proposed  in   1918  using  Einstein’s  theory.  This  is  the  amount  by  which  Earth  twists  spacetime  as   it  spins  on  its  axis.  “Imagine  the  Earth  as  if  it  were  immersed  in  honey,”  says  Francis   Everitt,   GP-­‐B’s   principal   investigator   at   Stanford   University.   “As   the   planet   rotates,   the  honey  around  it  would  swirl,  and  it’s  the  same  with  space  and  time.”       Frame  dragging  results  from  a  general-­‐relativistic  effect  called  gravitomagnetism  -­‐  so   named  because  it’s  analogous  to  the  way  magnetism  was  revealed  to  be  merely  the   special-­‐relativity   transformation   of   an   electrostatic   field   that   moves.   So,   just   as   a   moving  electron  creates  a  magnetic  field,  a  moving  mass  generates  a  gravitomagnetic   field.   The   field   exerts   a   sideways   force,   similar   to   the   force   a   magnetic   field   exerts   on   a  charged  particle,  on  any  mass  moving  though  it,  causing  the  object’s  path  to  deflect.     This  was  heady  stuff  in  1959.  But  by  the  time  of  GP-­‐B’s  much-­‐delayed  launch,  other   confirmations  of  these  effects  were  dissipating  much  of  its  rationale.  

Writing  Sample   Gravity  Probe  B:  Relatively  Important?       A  Long-­‐Sought  Goal     The  experiment’s  basic  design  was  born  in  1920,  when  physicists  J.  A.  Schouten  and   Arthur   S.   Eddington   suggested   the   use   of   gyroscopes   to   test   general   relativity.   In   1959   MIT   physicist   Donald   Pugh   suggested   using   a   satellite,   whose   motion   would   be   compensated   for   atmospheric   drag,   to   provide   a   perfect,   zero-­‐g   inertial   reference   frame  in  which  to  hold  the  gyroscopes.     Orbiting  Earth  in  a  special  housing  at  a  height  of  400  miles,  GP-­‐B’s  gyroscopes  consist   of  four  spheres  the  size  of  Ping-­‐Pong  balls  coated  with  niobium.  They  were  cited  in   the  Guinness  World  Records  as  the  most  perfectly  spherical  objects  ever  made.  The   housing  was  set  to  maintain  a  perfect  lock  on  a  guide  star  (IM  Pegasi).  If  Newtonian   physics   were   all   that   applied,   the   gyroscopes   would   never   change   orientation   and   stay   pointed   at   the   star.   If   Einstein   were   right,   the   two   effects   would   cause   the   gyroscopes   to   drift   by   a   tiny   angle,   measured   in   arcseconds,   over   the   course   of   the   mission.     But  GP-­‐B’s  confirmation  of  the  geodetic  effect  to  a  precision  of  0.3%    (6,601.8  plus  or   minus  18.3  milliarcseconds)  is  not  exactly  stunning.  Astronomers  had  already  done   this   to   0.002%   accuracy,   150   times   better,   by   measuring   the   time   delay   in   radio   signals  from  the  Cassini  spacecraft  as  they  passed  through  the  gravitational  field  of   the  Sun.     “I  am  pleased  but  not  impressed  by  the  geodetic-­‐precession  part  of  the  result,”  said   Michael   Kramer,   a   member   of   an   international   team   studying   binary   pulsars   and   a   contributor   to   S&T   on   the   subject.   “However,   for   the   frame   dragging   [part],   I   still   think  it  is  a  significant  advance  as  it  really  shows  a  direct  measurement  of  the  effect   on  a  spinning  top,  which  is  really  quite  nice.”       But   GP-­‐B   confirmed   frame-­‐dragging   to   only   20%   accuracy   (37.2   plus   or   minus   7.2   milliarcseconds).   Kramer   called   this   “a   very   nice   stone   in   the   big   mosaic   to   understand   gravity,”   while   explaining   that   experiments   on   binary   pulsars   are   aiming   to  calculate  frame-­‐dragging  more  precisely  than  GP-­‐B.     And   here,   lunar-­‐ranging   experiments   are   way   ahead.   The   Apollo   astronauts   left   retro-­‐reflector   mirrors   on   the   Moon,   and   laser   ranging   from   Earth   can   now   track   their   positions   to   millimeters.   At   that   level   of   precision,   the   Moon’s   motion   in   orbit   has   confirmed   gravitomagnetism,   the   source   of   frame-­‐dragging,   to   0.15%,   or   130   times  better  than  GP-­‐B.     “I   won’t   say   there   is   no   value   in   testing   physics   in   a   novel   way,”   says   Tom   Murphy   (University   of   California   in   San   Diego),   a   member   of   the   lunar-­‐ranging   project,  “but   any  discrepancy  would  have  been  incredibly  jarring.”    

Writing  Sample   Gravity  Probe  B:  Relatively  Important?     Other   physicists   have   said   that   if   GP-­‐B   produced   any   other   result   than   it   did,   they   would  probably  just  assume  that  GP-­‐B’s  engineers  had  pushed  their  technology  too   far.     Costs  and  Benefits     So,  was  it  worth  $750  million?       NASA  considered  terminating  the  GP-­‐B  program  several  times  during  its  protracted   development.   As   recently   as   2008,   a   panel   of   15   scientists   ranked   GP-­‐B   last   in   a   review   of   which   space-­‐science   missions   should   receive   funding.   But   a   very   perseverant   team   led   by   Everitt   lobbied   Congress   hard   to   see   the   mission   through   to   completion,  bypassing  normal  channels.     Speaking  at  a  NASA  press  conference  on  Wednesday,  Rex  Geveden,  GP-­‐B’s  program   manager   at   the   time   of   its   launch   (now   the   president   of   Teledyne   Brown   Engineering),  said  “Gravity  Probe  B  is  about  science,  technology  and  a  triumph  of  the   human   spirit   in   the   end.”   The   press-­‐conference   panel   also   boasted   of   GP-­‐B’s   educational  value.  The  lengthy  mission  served  as  a  training  ground  for  100  doctoral   students,  15  other  graduate  students,  350  undergraduates,  and  more  than  four  dozen   high-­‐school  students.     Those   who   have   long   been   following   the   mission   heard   a   note   of   defensiveness   here.   Every  space  mission  involves  students;  rarely  does  NASA  have  to  cast  that  far  to  help   justify  it.     Even  so,  one  can’t  help  but  wonder  what  Einstein  might  have  said  if  he  were  here  to   see  the  results.  We  can  only  look  back  to  1919,  when  shortly  after  the  solar  eclipse   that   provided   general   relativity’s   very   first   (though   weak)   confirmation,   he   was   asked  what  he  might  have  felt  if  his  prediction  had  been  wrong.  “I  would  feel  sorry   for  the  dear  Lord,”  he  said.  “The  theory  is  correct.”      

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