The General Theory of Relativity was first presented by Albert Einstein on November 25, 1915, according to Smithsonian Magazine. On that date he stood before a group of scientists in Berlin at the Prussian Academy of Sciences and stated that he had a new theory that was complete and that it would give the world a “new and deeper” understanding of the nature of gravity.
General relativity was a follow-up to Einstein’s Special Theory of Relativity that was published in 1905. This detailed how one of the fundamental laws of the universe is that nothing can travel faster than the speed of light.
Sir Isaac Newton’s theories predict that if one were able to take the Sun and shake it, “like some cosmic maraca,” that the planets of the solar system would instantly shake along in sympathy, pulled by the Sun’s gravity.
The Smithsonian Magazine reports that “Einstein would have none of it.” Armed with his knowledge that nothing could outrun light from his work with special relativity, Newton’s prediction that gravity could outrun light bothered Einstein to no end. Newton reportedly asserted that he understood that his theory was incomplete; the mystery was there for anyone to tackle for over 200 years. Einstein was the first to refuse to let it remain unsolved. He is said to have taken up the investigation into the workings of gravity “in earnest” in 1907.
By 1912, Einstein reportedly had a grasp of the fact that because the Sun and the Earth exert a gravitational force on each other, despite the fact they they are not touching, meant that the nature of space was deeply intertwined with the nature of matter and gravity.
In an experiment conceived by Sir Frank Watson Dyson in 1917, Sir Arthur Eddington traveled to Príncipe, located in the Gulf of Guinea, near Africa, to observe a solar eclipse. Another group was set to Sobral, Brazil in case the group in Principe experienced poor viewing conditions. During a six-minute eclipse on May 29, 1919 both locations experienced clear weather and photographs were taken. When Eddington delivered the photographs to England for study, the data confirmed Einstein’s general relativity predictions, reports Wired.
Einstein reported that his theory had been confirmed with empirical evidence on November 6, 1919. His name was not widely known before this date, yet his accomplishment was said to have been front page news the next day and to have turned Albert Einstein into a “celebrity overnight.”
On November 13, Hilbert was reported to have invited Einstein to a Göttingen, Germany, presentation on November 16 where he would explain the “solution to” Einstein’s “great problem.” Einstein replied to Hilbert that he would not be able to attend because he had stomach pains. Then, on November 18, Einstein was said to have received the completed manuscript from Hilbert and to have replied, “The system you furnish agrees — as far as I can see — exactly with what I found in the last few weeks and have presented to the Academy.”
Then, on November 25, Einstein revealed the formulas behind the General Theory of Relativity to the amazement of the scientific community at the Prussian Academy of Sciences.
The manuscript that Hilbert sent to Einstein wasn’t published until months later. The question of whether the manuscript Hilbert sent to Einstein actually contained the correct formulas, or if he was “inspired” by Einstein’s announcement on November 25 and changed its contents, has been the subject of debate. Further fueling the mystery is that the important sections of Hilbert’s original manuscript, which would have given insight into this mystery, have reportedly been “snipped away.”
Hilbert was reported to have ceded credit for the General Theory of Relativity to Einstein and to be given his due with a form of the equations for which both he and Einstein are cited.
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