Equivalence Principle

The equivalence principle was Einstein’s ‘Newton’s apple’ insight to gravitation. His thought experiment was the following, imagine two elevators, one at rest on the Earth’s surface, one accelerating in space. To an observer inside the elevator (no windows) there is no physical experiment that he/she could perform to differentiate between the two scenarios.

The equivalence principle is a fundamental law of physics that states that gravitational and inertial forces are of a similar nature and often indistinguishable. In the Newtonian form it asserts, in effect, that, within a windowless laboratory freely falling in a uniform gravitational field, experimenters would be unaware that the laboratory is in a state of nonuniform motion. All dynamical experiments yield the same results as obtained in an inertial state of uniform motion unaffected by gravity.

elevatorsAn immediate consequence of the equivalence principle is that gravity bends light. To visualize why this is true imagine a photon crossing the elevator accelerating into space. As the photon crosses the elevator, the floor is accelerated upward and the photon appears to fall downward. The same must be true in a gravitational field by the equivalence principle.

The principle of equivalence renders the gravitational field fundamentally different from all other force fields encountered in nature. The new theory of gravitation, the general theory of relativity, adopts this characteristic of the gravitational field as its foundation.

elevator_photonThere were two classical tests of General Relativity, the first was that light should be deflected by passing close to a massive body. The first opportunity occurred during a total eclipse of the Sun in 1919.
Measurements of stellar positions near the darkened solar limb proved Einstein was right. Direct confirmation of gravitational lensing has been observed numerous times by the ‘Hubble’ space telescope.bend

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