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Einstein’s general relativity reveals new quirk of Mercury’s orbit

Warped spacetime affects the planet’s motion in several ways

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12:11pm, April 11, 2018
Mercury

ORBIT UPDATE  Einstein’s general theory of relativity led scientists to rethink how Mercury orbits the sun. A new analysis calculates a secondary effect of general relativity on that orbit.

The calculation of Mercury’s orbit is being tweaked — for a second time. And it’s all thanks to Albert Einstein.

Before the famous physicist came up with his theory of gravity, known as the general theory of relativity, scientists’ predictions for Mercury’s motions were slightly off: The planet’s orbit disagreed with expectations. When Einstein realized that general relativity accounted for the mismatch, it was the first sign his theory was right (SN: 10/17/15, p. 16).

Now, physicist Clifford Will has calculated another effect of general relativity on Mercury’s orbit, he reports in a paper accepted in Physical Review Letters. The effect is too subtle to have been detected in observations so far.

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