General Relativity in a Minivan

The experimental apparatus

The experimental apparatus

We recently mentioned Einstein’s Theory of General Relativity in the blog post here.  As we mentioned, at the time Einstein’s theory was more mathematics than physics in that it was essentially all theoretical.  The main evidence in it’s favor was that the theory correctly predicted how the perihelion of the orbit of Mercury would vary (experimental data showed that Newton’s theory was off by 43 seconds of arc per century).  But science folks are very skeptical, and it would take more than one piece of evidence for people to get on board with relativity.  In 1919 a world famous experiment by Sir Arthur Eddington verified that the light from stars bends around the sun by the amount predicted by relativity.

That’s all well and good, but what about everyday folk?  Well, you don’t have to take the word of scientists and their fancy experiments.  One of the stranger predictions of relativity is that gravity slows down time.  You too can test Gravitational time dilationAll you need is a minivan and an atomic clock!

Our three intrepid explorers and their aide-de-camp took three cesium atomic clocks to the top of Mount Rainer for the weekend with their minivan.   The result?  They measured a time dilation of approximately 20 nanoseconds just as Einstein predicts!

The data.

The data.

Thanks to 3QuarksDaily for the heads up.

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2 thoughts on “General Relativity in a Minivan

  1. While the results are pretty cool, I feel sorry for people driving up a mountain wedged into the pile of computer electronics in that van.

  2. 20 nanoseconds of time dilation just by going up on a mountain. I always thought the effect of time dilation would be on a smaller scale than that. May be it is because now I can really understand how long 20 nanoseconds really is. I wonder what would happen if I take a micro-controller with clock frequency 50 MHz to the top of Mt. Rainier?

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