Science and Technology

100 years after the eclipse that confirmed the General Theory of Relativity

CENTRA is organising a conference to celebrate the importance of the General Theory of Relativity.

Príncipe island, Roça Sundy, 29th May 1919. British astrophysicists led by Arthur Eddington gathered to observe a total solar eclipse and experimentally confirmed for the first time Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity. 100 years later, in the same place, CENTRA organises a conference entitled “From Einstein and Eddington to LIGO: 100 years of gravitational light deflection”. The conference started on 26th May and ends on 30th May, at Resort Bom Bom in Príncipe Island, 2.5 Km away from the site of Eddington’s observations.

Stars behind the eclipsed Sun could be seen on Earth as the light rays they emitted were deflected due to the Sun’s spacetime curvature. General relativity predicts a value for the deflection of 1.75 arcseconds and the observations confirmed this value.

This is one of the most acclaimed events in the history of science and it is celebrated all over the world. “Professor Vítor Cardoso, professor Carlos Herdeiro and I consider that it is appropriate to link this discovery to the scientific activities of CENTRA, by holding a scientific conference at Principe island, and to celebrate the centenary of the discovery” explains José Sande Lemos, Técnico professor and president of CENTRA.

The main aim of the conference is to celebrate such an important date with a gathering of worldwide experts to reflect on the legacy left by Einstein and Eddington from the event itself and to discuss the subsequent startling developments in the fields of astrophysics and gravitation, namely, black holes, gravitational waves, and cosmology. “This conference aims to track history, share the extraordinary scientific achievements and to envisage the future”, adds the professor.

The conference will focus on topics related to “gravitational light deflection, black holes and gravitational waves”. Técnico will be represented by many professors and researchers who have been developing a remarkable work at CENTRA. According to professor José Sande Lemos, “CENTRA’s researchers are developing outstanding research at international level”. “We organised this conference in partnership with experts from Cambridge, Chicago and Paris, as well as from CENTRA and Universidade de Lisboa”, he points out.

The educational and scientific project “Eddington at Sundy: 100 years later” will be highlighted during the event. For example, a teleconference will take place today, at 1.30 p.m. local time, with colleagues from the city of Sobral, Brasil – where occurred a similar expedition. “Scientists and politicians from Sao Tome and Príncipe and Brasil will participate in this teleconference”, explains the Técnico professor.

The theory of relativity fundamentally changed our understanding of physics and astronomy, and underpins critical modern technologies such as the satellite-based Global Positioning System (GPS).

More than proving the theory of relativity, the event of 29th May 1919 demonstrated once again that people from different countries could be united in a common goal. “At the time, the First World War had just ended and British and German scientists were eager to close hands looking towards a better future”, recalls professor José Sande Lemos.