As humanity stands on the everlasting threshold of discovery, we consistently look back on the accomplishments of the past to form a keener eye for the future. One of the most groundbreaking and revolutionary theories in physics and astronomy was The Theory of General Relativity founded by German scientist Albert Einstein. Many believe that Einstein’s theories are irrefutable, which only add to his unprecedented genius. However new exploration into the depths of the universe may challenge that theory unlike anything ever before witnessed.
Astronomers have found a new system with a powerful cosmic beacon, known as a pulsar, in orbit with not one, but two dwarf stars. This triple celestial system has raised new questions on Einstein’s theory, challenging what many believe to the foundation of modern astrophysics.
A pulsar consists of a neutron star, the leftover core of a massive star that has exploded in a supernova reaction. The gravity of this core squeezes its mass so intensely that the atomic nuclie join into a single sphere. This spinning sphere of neutrons emits powerful beams of radio waves in a measurable and consistent rhythm. This consistency makes it possible for scientists to determine whether a pulsar is in orbit with another object. As a pulsar and its companion orbit each other the distance between the pulsar and the Earth varies slightly, making measureable differences in the waves approach to Earth.
The distinct triple system opens new questions about the equivalence principle, which relates two different conceptions of mass. An object’s inertial mass quantifies how it resists the pushing and pulling of forces. Less inertial mass means less energy is required to set that object in motion. Gravitational mass determines the effects of gravitation pull on an object. A heavier object has more gravitational mass.
Simply put, the equivalence principle says inertial mass and gravitational mass are equal. This explains why objects fall to Earth at the same rate regardless of mass. This new pulsar system opens the way to a much more interesting assessment. The “self-gravitation” of the new pulsar system accounts for a mere 10% of its entire system mass. At the same time, both move in the gravitational field of the outer orbiting star. The purposed Strong Equivalence Principle takes this equation one step further. According to the Theory of Relativity, E = mc2 , energy equals mass. So an objects system’s mass can be generated by the sum of the energy in the gravitational fields within the system.Einstein never accounted for the “self gravitation” and thus adding a new complexity to the theory.