Research: Even phenomenally dense neutron stars fall like a feather

06 July, 2018, 22:51 | Author: Kelly Sanders
  • Einstein's Theory of Gravity Passes Toughest Test to Date

However, there have been contradictions to the idea as some people have suggested alternative theories of gravity might be applicable in the cases of most dense or massive objects with extreme gravity. About 4,200 light-years from Earth, this system is made up of a neutron star that orbits a white dwarf once every 1.6 days, while these two orbit another white dwarf star every 327 days.

The Italian scientist reportedly dropped two spheres of different proportions (something along the lines of a marble and a cannonball) from the Leaning Tower of Pisa, to demonstrate their time of descent was independent of their composition. The Sun is inside one such well, the Earth has its own smaller one.

"This research shows how routine and careful observation of distant stars can give us a high-precision test of one of the fundamental theories of physics", said Ingrid Stairs, professor in the department of physics and astronomy at UBC and a co-author of the study. Over time, the researchers found nearly no detectable difference, indicating there is little room for alternative theories of gravity in this model.

Luckily, astronomers have found a natural laboratory to test this theory in extreme conditions: the triple star system called PSR J0337+1715, which is located 4,200 light years from Earth. By tracking the trio, the scientists wanted to find out whether the neutron star and inner white dwarf were affected differently by the gravity of the outer white dwarf.

"We can account for every single pulse of the neutron star since we began our observations", study leader Anne Archibald, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Amsterdam and the Netherlands Institute for Radio Astronomy, said in a statement.

Through meticulous observations and careful calculations, the researchers were able to test the system's gravity using the pulses of the neutron star alone.

A neutron star is the remains of a star after it has exploded and collapsed in on itself.


The astronomers tracked the movements of the pulsar by observing the radio-waves emitted by it. The neutron star in this system pulses (rotates) 366 times per second. "That is a really precise track of where the neutron star has been and where it is going". "That makes it a one-of-a-kind laboratory for putting Einstein's theories to the test", said team member Dr. Ryan Lynch, an astronomer at the Green Bank Observatory in West Virginia.

Now, nearly 80 years later, a study led by researchers from the University of Amsterdam in the Netherlands have proven that even extremely massive objects, such as superdense neutron stars, fall just like a feather. "And we can tell its location to within a few hundred meters".

"Tests of this principle have a long heritage", says Clifford M. Will in a Nature article accompanying the paper.

Any difference between the accelerations of the neutron star and white dwarf is too small to detect. Once again, Einstein's theory of gravity passes this test and provides the simplest and most accurate description of this complex gravitational system.

"If there is a difference, it is no more than three parts in a million", said coauthor Nina Gusinskaia.

On Earth, many times researchers have certified the equivalence principle - and even on the moon. On the other hand, according to Einstein's theory of general relativity, pulsar's behavior under an external gravitational field should not be different from that of any other body within that field, be it a feather or a star. "Also, we have improved on the accuracy of the best previous test of gravity, both within the solar system and with other pulsars, by a factor of about 10".

In total, teams around the world captured 27,194 of these pulses and used advanced computer software to analysis the data which confirmed Einstein's theory and Galileo's experiment still holds up, even on a huge cosmic scale.

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