General relativity (GR, also known as the general theory of relativity or GTR) is the geometric theory of gravitation published by Albert Einstein in 1915 and the current description of gravitation in modern physics. General relativity generalizes special relativity and Newton's law of universal gravitation, providing a unified description of gravity as a geometric property of space and time, or spacetime. In particular, the curvature of spacetime is directly related to the energy and momentum of whatever matter and radiation are present. The relation is specified by the Einstein field equations, a system of partial differential equations.
Some predictions of general relativity differ significantly from those of classical physics, especially concerning the passage of time, the geometry of space, the motion of bodies in free fall, and the propagation of light. Examples of such differences include gravitational time dilation, gravitational lensing, the gravitational redshift of light, and the gravitational time delay. The predictions of general relativity in relation to classical physics have been confirmed in all observations and experiments to date. Although general relativity is not the only relativistic theory of gravity, it is the simplest theory that is consistent with experimental data. However, unanswered questions remain, the most fundamental being how general relativity can be reconciled with the laws of quantum physics to produce a complete and self-consistent theory of quantum gravity.
Einstein's theory has important astrophysical implications. For example, it implies the existence of black holes—regions of space in which space and time are distorted in such a way that nothing, not even light, can escape—as an end-state for massive stars. There is ample evidence that the intense radiation emitted by certain kinds of astronomical objects is due to black holes; for example, microquasars and active galactic nuclei result from the presence of stellar black holes and supermassive black holes, respectively. The bending of light by gravity can lead to the phenomenon of gravitational lensing, in which multiple images of the same distant astronomical object are visible in the sky. General relativity also predicts the existence of gravitational waves, which have since been observed directly by the physics collaboration LIGO. In addition, general relativity is the basis of current cosmological models of a consistently expanding universe.
Widely acknowledged as a theory of extraordinary beauty, general relativity has often been described as the most beautiful of all existing physical theories.
Soon after publishing the special theory of relativity in 1905, Einstein started thinking about how to incorporate gravity into his new relativistic framework. In 1907, beginning with a simple thought experiment involving an observer in free fall, he embarked on what would be an eight-year search for a relativistic theory of gravity. After numerous detours and false starts, his work culminated in the presentation to the Prussian Academy of Science in November 1915 of what are now known as the Einstein field equations. These equations specify how the geometry of space and time is influenced by whatever matter and radiation are present, and form the core of Einstein's general theory of relativity.
The Einstein field equations are nonlinear and very difficult to solve. Einstein used approximation methods in working out initial predictions of the theory. But as early as 1916, the astrophysicist Karl Schwarzschild found the first non-trivial exact solution to the Einstein field equations, the Schwarzschild metric. This solution laid the groundwork for the description of the final stages of gravitational collapse, and the objects known today as black holes. In the same year, the first steps towards generalizing Schwarzschild's solution to electrically charged objects were taken, which eventually resulted in the Reissner–Nordström solution, now associated with electrically charged black holes. In 1917, Einstein applied his theory to the universe as a whole, initiating the field of relativistic cosmology. In line with contemporary thinking, he assumed a static universe, adding a new parameter to his original field equations—the cosmological constant—to match that observational presumption. By 1929, however, the work of Hubble and others had shown that our universe is expanding. This is readily described by the expanding cosmological solutions found by Friedmann in 1922, which do not require a cosmological constant. Lemaître used these solutions to formulate the earliest version of the Big Bang models, in which our universe has evolved from an extremely hot and dense earlier state. Einstein later declared the cosmological constant the biggest blunder of his life.
During that period, general relativity remained something of a curiosity among physical theories. It was clearly superior to Newtonian gravity, being consistent with special relativity and accounting for several effects unexplained by the Newtonian theory. Einstein himself had shown in 1915 how his theory explained the anomalous perihelion advance of the planet Mercury without any arbitrary parameters ("fudge factors"). Similarly, a 1919 expedition led by Eddington confirmed general relativity's prediction for the deflection of starlight by the Sun during the total solar eclipse of May 29, 1919, making Einstein instantly famous. Yet the theory entered the mainstream of theoretical physics and astrophysics only with the developments between approximately 1960 and 1975, now known as the golden age of general relativity. Physicists began to understand the concept of a black hole, and to identify quasars as one of these objects' astrophysical manifestations. Ever more precise solar system tests confirmed the theory's predictive power, and relativistic cosmology, too, became amenable to direct observational tests.
Over the years, general relativity has acquired a reputation as a theory of extraordinary beauty. Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar has noted that at multiple levels, general relativity exhibits what Francis Bacon has termed, a "strangeness in the proportion" (i.e. elements that excite wonderment and surprise). It juxtaposes fundamental concepts (space and time versus matter and motion) which had previously been considered as entirely independent. Chandrasekhar also noted that Einstein's only guides in his search for an exact theory were the principle of equivalence and his sense that a proper description of gravity should be geometrical at its basis, so that there was an "element of revelation" in the manner in which Einstein arrived at his theory. Other elements of beauty associated with the general theory of relativity are its simplicity, symmetry, the manner in which it incorporates invariance and unification, and its perfect logical consistency.
General relativity can be understood by examining its similarities with and departures from classical physics. The first step is the realization that classical mechanics and Newton's law of gravity admit a geometric description. The combination of this description with the laws of special relativity results in a heuristic derivation of general relativity.
At the base of classical mechanics is the notion that a body's motion can be described as a combination of free (or inertial) motion, and deviations from this free motion. Such deviations are caused by external forces acting on a body in accordance with Newton's second law of motion, which states that the net force acting on a body is equal to that body's (inertial) mass multiplied by its acceleration. The preferred inertial motions are related to the geometry of space and time: in the standard reference frames of classical mechanics, objects in free motion move along straight lines at constant speed. In modern parlance, their paths are geodesics, straight world lines in curved spacetime.
Conversely, one might expect that inertial motions, once identified by observing the actual motions of bodies and making allowances for the external forces (such as electromagnetism or friction), can be used to define the geometry of space, as well as a time coordinate. However, there is an ambiguity once gravity comes into play. According to Newton's law of gravity, and independently verified by experiments such as that of Eötvös and its successors (see Eötvös experiment), there is a universality of free fall (also known as the weak equivalence principle, or the universal equality of inertial and passive-gravitational mass): the trajectory of a test body in free fall depends only on its position and initial speed, but not on any of its material properties. A simplified version of this is embodied in Einstein's elevator experiment, illustrated in the figure on the right: for an observer in a small enclosed room, it is impossible to decide, by mapping the trajectory of bodies such as a dropped ball, whether the room is at rest in a gravitational field, or in free space aboard a rocket that is accelerating at a rate equal to that of the gravitational field.
Given the universality of free fall, there is no observable distinction between inertial motion and motion under the influence of the gravitational force. This suggests the definition of a new class of inertial motion, namely that of objects in free fall under the influence of gravity. This new class of preferred motions, too, defines a geometry of space and time—in mathematical terms, it is the geodesic motion associated with a specific connection which depends on the gradient of the gravitational potential. Space, in this construction, still has the ordinary Euclidean geometry. However, spacetime as a whole is more complicated. As can be shown using simple thought experiments following the free-fall trajectories of different test particles, the result of transporting spacetime vectors that can denote a particle's velocity (time-like vectors) will vary with the particle's trajectory; mathematically speaking, the Newtonian connection is not integrable. From this, one can deduce that spacetime is curved. The resulting Newton–Cartan theory is a geometric formulation of Newtonian gravity using only covariant concepts, i.e. a description which is valid in any desired coordinate system. In this geometric description, tidal effects—the relative acceleration of bodies in free fall—are related to the derivative of the connection, showing how the modified geometry is caused by the presence of mass.
As intriguing as geometric Newtonian gravity may be, its basis, classical mechanics, is merely a limiting case of (special) relativistic mechanics. In the language of symmetry: where gravity can be neglected, physics is Lorentz invariant as in special relativity rather than Galilei invariant as in classical mechanics. (The defining symmetry of special relativity is the Poincaré group, which includes translations, rotations and boosts.) The differences between the two become significant when dealing with speeds approaching the speed of light, and with high-energy phenomena.
With Lorentz symmetry, additional structures come into play. They are defined by the set of light cones (see image). The light-cones define a causal structure: for each event A, there is a set of events that can, in principle, either influence or be influenced by A via signals or interactions that do not need to travel faster than light (such as event B in the image), and a set of events for which such an influence is impossible (such as event C in the image). These sets are observer-independent. In conjunction with the world-lines of freely falling particles, the light-cones can be used to reconstruct the space–time's semi-Riemannian metric, at least up to a positive scalar factor. In mathematical terms, this defines a conformal structure or conformal geometry.
Special relativity is defined in the absence of gravity, so for practical applications, it is a suitable model whenever gravity can be neglected. Bringing gravity into play, and assuming the universality of free fall, an analogous reasoning as in the previous section applies: there are no global inertial frames. Instead there are approximate inertial frames moving alongside freely falling particles. Translated into the language of spacetime: the straight time-like lines that define a gravity-free inertial frame are deformed to lines that are curved relative to each other, suggesting that the inclusion of gravity necessitates a change in spacetime geometry.
A priori, it is not clear whether the new local frames in free fall coincide with the reference frames in which the laws of special relativity hold—that theory is based on the propagation of light, and thus on electromagnetism, which could have a different set of preferred frames. But using different assumptions about the special-relativistic frames (such as their being earth-fixed, or in free fall), one can derive different predictions for the gravitational redshift, that is, the way in which the frequency of light shifts as the light propagates through a gravitational field (cf. below). The actual measurements show that free-falling frames are the ones in which light propagates as it does in special relativity. The generalization of this statement, namely that the laws of special relativity hold to good approximation in freely falling (and non-rotating) reference frames, is known as the Einstein equivalence principle, a crucial guiding principle for generalizing special-relativistic physics to include gravity.
The same experimental data shows that time as measured by clocks in a gravitational field—proper time, to give the technical term—does not follow the rules of special relativity. In the language of spacetime geometry, it is not measured by the Minkowski metric. As in the Newtonian case, this is suggestive of a more general geometry. At small scales, all reference frames that are in free fall are equivalent, and approximately Minkowskian. Consequently, we are now dealing with a curved generalization of Minkowski space. The metric tensor that defines the geometry—in particular, how lengths and angles are measured—is not the Minkowski metric of special relativity, it is a generalization known as a semi- or pseudo-Riemannian metric. Furthermore, each Riemannian metric is naturally associated with one particular kind of connection, the Levi-Civita connection, and this is, in fact, the connection that satisfies the equivalence principle and makes space locally Minkowskian (that is, in suitable locally inertial coordinates, the metric is Minkowskian, and its first partial derivatives and the connection coefficients vanish).
Having formulated the relativistic, geometric version of the effects of gravity, the question of gravity's source remains. In Newtonian gravity, the source is mass. In special relativity, mass turns out to be part of a more general quantity called the energy–momentum tensor, which includes both energy and momentum densities as well as stress: pressure and shear. Using the equivalence principle, this tensor is readily generalized to curved spacetime. Drawing further upon the analogy with geometric Newtonian gravity, it is natural to assume that the field equation for gravity relates this tensor and the Ricci tensor, which describes a particular class of tidal effects: the change in volume for a small cloud of test particles that are initially at rest, and then fall freely. In special relativity, conservation of energy–momentum corresponds to the statement that the energy–momentum tensor is divergence-free. This formula, too, is readily generalized to curved spacetime by replacing partial derivatives with their curved-manifold counterparts, covariant derivatives studied in differential geometry. With this additional condition—the covariant divergence of the energy–momentum tensor, and hence of whatever is on the other side of the equation, is zero— the simplest set of equations are what are called Einstein's (field) equations:
On the left-hand side is the Einstein tensor, a specific divergence-free combination of the Ricci tensor and the metric. Where is symmetric. In particular,
is the curvature scalar. The Ricci tensor itself is related to the more general Riemann curvature tensor as
On the right-hand side, is the energy–momentum tensor. All tensors are written in abstract index notation. Matching the theory's prediction to observational results for planetary orbits or, equivalently, assuring that the weak-gravity, low-speed limit is Newtonian mechanics, the proportionality constant can be fixed as κ = 8πG/c4, with G the gravitational constant and c the speed of light. When there is no matter present, so that the energy–momentum tensor vanishes, the results are the vacuum Einstein equations,
In general relativity, the world line of a particle free from all external, non-gravitational force is a particular type of geodesic in curved spacetime. In other words, a freely moving or falling particle always moves along a geodesic.
The geodesic equation is:
where s is a scalar parameter of motion (e.g. the proper time), and are Christoffel symbols (sometimes called the affine connection coefficients or Levi-Civita connection coefficients) which is symmetric in the two lower indices. Greek indices may take the values: 0, 1, 2, 3 and the summation convention is used for repeated indices and . The quantity on the left-hand-side of this equation is the acceleration of a particle, and so this equation is analogous to Newton's laws of motion which likewise provide formulae for the acceleration of a particle. This equation of motion employs the Einstein notation, meaning that repeated indices are summed (i.e. from zero to three). The Christoffel symbols are functions of the four space-time coordinates, and so are independent of the velocity or acceleration or other characteristics of a test particle whose motion is described by the geodesic equation.
There are alternatives to general relativity built upon the same premises, which include additional rules and/or constraints, leading to different field equations. Examples are Whitehead's theory, Brans–Dicke theory, teleparallelism, f(R) gravity and Einstein–Cartan theory.
The derivation outlined in the previous section contains all the information needed to define general relativity, describe its key properties, and address a question of crucial importance in physics, namely how the theory can be used for model-building.
General relativity is a metric theory of gravitation. At its core are Einstein's equations, which describe the relation between the geometry of a four-dimensional pseudo-Riemannian manifold representing spacetime, and the energy–momentum contained in that spacetime. Phenomena that in classical mechanics are ascribed to the action of the force of gravity (such as free-fall, orbital motion, and spacecraft trajectories), correspond to inertial motion within a curved geometry of spacetime in general relativity; there is no gravitational force deflecting objects from their natural, straight paths. Instead, gravity corresponds to changes in the properties of space and time, which in turn changes the straightest-possible paths that objects will naturally follow. The curvature is, in turn, caused by the energy–momentum of matter. Paraphrasing the relativist John Archibald Wheeler, spacetime tells matter how to move; matter tells spacetime how to curve.
While general relativity replaces the scalar gravitational potential of classical physics by a symmetric rank-two tensor, the latter reduces to the former in certain limiting cases. For weak gravitational fields and slow speed relative to the speed of light, the theory's predictions converge on those of Newton's law of universal gravitation.
As it is constructed using tensors, general relativity exhibits general covariance: its laws—and further laws formulated within the general relativistic framework—take on the same form in all coordinate systems. Furthermore, the theory does not contain any invariant geometric background structures, i.e. it is background independent. It thus satisfies a more stringent general principle of relativity, namely that the laws of physics are the same for all observers. Locally, as expressed in the equivalence principle, spacetime is Minkowskian, and the laws of physics exhibit local Lorentz invariance.
The core concept of general-relativistic model-building is that of a solution of Einstein's equations. Given both Einstein's equations and suitable equations for the properties of matter, such a solution consists of a specific semi-Riemannian manifold (usually defined by giving the metric in specific coordinates), and specific matter fields defined on that manifold. Matter and geometry must satisfy Einstein's equations, so in particular, the matter's energy–momentum tensor must be divergence-free. The matter must, of course, also satisfy whatever additional equations were imposed on its properties. In short, such a solution is a model universe that satisfies the laws of general relativity, and possibly additional laws governing whatever matter might be present.
Einstein's equations are nonlinear partial differential equations and, as such, difficult to solve exactly. Nevertheless, a number of exact solutions are known, although only a few have direct physical applications. The best-known exact solutions, and also those most interesting from a physics point of view, are the Schwarzschild solution, the Reissner–Nordström solution and the Kerr metric, each corresponding to a certain type of black hole in an otherwise empty universe, and the Friedmann–Lemaître–Robertson–Walker and de Sitter universes, each describing an expanding cosmos. Exact solutions of great theoretical interest include the Gödel universe (which opens up the intriguing possibility of time travel in curved spacetimes), the Taub-NUT solution (a model universe that is homogeneous, but anisotropic), and anti-de Sitter space (which has recently come to prominence in the context of what is called the Maldacena conjecture).
Given the difficulty of finding exact solutions, Einstein's field equations are also solved frequently by numerical integration on a computer, or by considering small perturbations of exact solutions. In the field of numerical relativity, powerful computers are employed to simulate the geometry of spacetime and to solve Einstein's equations for interesting situations such as two colliding black holes. In principle, such methods may be applied to any system, given sufficient computer resources, and may address fundamental questions such as naked singularities. Approximate solutions may also be found by perturbation theories such as linearized gravity and its generalization, the post-Newtonian expansion, both of which were developed by Einstein. The latter provides a systematic approach to solving for the geometry of a spacetime that contains a distribution of matter that moves slowly compared with the speed of light. The expansion involves a series of terms; the first terms represent Newtonian gravity, whereas the later terms represent ever smaller corrections to Newton's theory due to general relativity. An extension of this expansion is the parametrized post-Newtonian (PPN) formalism, which allows quantitative comparisons between the predictions of general relativity and alternative theories.
General relativity has a number of physical consequences. Some follow directly from the theory's axioms, whereas others have become clear only in the course of many years of research that followed Einstein's initial publication.
Assuming that the equivalence principle holds, gravity influences the passage of time. Light sent down into a gravity well is blueshifted, whereas light sent in the opposite direction (i.e., climbing out of the gravity well) is redshifted; collectively, these two effects are known as the gravitational frequency shift. More generally, processes close to a massive body run more slowly when compared with processes taking place farther away; this effect is known as gravitational time dilation.
Gravitational redshift has been measured in the laboratory and using astronomical observations. Gravitational time dilation in the Earth's gravitational field has been measured numerous times using atomic clocks, while ongoing validation is provided as a side effect of the operation of the Global Positioning System (GPS). Tests in stronger gravitational fields are provided by the observation of binary pulsars. All results are in agreement with general relativity. However, at the current level of accuracy, these observations cannot distinguish between general relativity and other theories in which the equivalence principle is valid.
General relativity predicts that the path of light will follow the curvature of spacetime as it passes near a star. This effect was initially confirmed by observing the light of stars or distant quasars being deflected as it passes the Sun.
This and related predictions follow from the fact that light follows what is called a light-like or null geodesic—a generalization of the straight lines along which light travels in classical physics. Such geodesics are the generalization of the invariance of lightspeed in special relativity. As one examines suitable model spacetimes (either the exterior Schwarzschild solution or, for more than a single mass, the post-Newtonian expansion), several effects of gravity on light propagation emerge. Although the bending of light can also be derived by extending the universality of free fall to light, the angle of deflection resulting from such calculations is only half the value given by general relativity.
Closely related to light deflection is the gravitational time delay (or Shapiro delay), the phenomenon that light signals take longer to move through a gravitational field than they would in the absence of that field. There have been numerous successful tests of this prediction. In the parameterized post-Newtonian formalism (PPN), measurements of both the deflection of light and the gravitational time delay determine a parameter called γ, which encodes the influence of gravity on the geometry of space.
Predicted in 1916 by Albert Einstein, there are gravitational waves: ripples in the metric of spacetime that propagate at the speed of light. These are one of several analogies between weak-field gravity and electromagnetism in that, they are analogous to electromagnetic waves. On February 11, 2016, the Advanced LIGO team announced that they had directly detected gravitational waves from a pair of black holes merging.
The simplest type of such a wave can be visualized by its action on a ring of freely floating particles. A sine wave propagating through such a ring towards the reader distorts the ring in a characteristic, rhythmic fashion (animated image to the right). Since Einstein's equations are non-linear, arbitrarily strong gravitational waves do not obey linear superposition, making their description difficult. However, for weak fields, a linear approximation can be made. Such linearized gravitational waves are sufficiently accurate to describe the exceedingly weak waves that are expected to arrive here on Earth from far-off cosmic events, which typically result in relative distances increasing and decreasing by or less. Data analysis methods routinely make use of the fact that these linearized waves can be Fourier decomposed.
Some exact solutions describe gravitational waves without any approximation, e.g., a wave train traveling through empty space or Gowdy universes, varieties of an expanding cosmos filled with gravitational waves. But for gravitational waves produced in astrophysically relevant situations, such as the merger of two black holes, numerical methods are presently the only way to construct appropriate models.
General relativity differs from classical mechanics in a number of predictions concerning orbiting bodies. It predicts an overall rotation (precession) of planetary orbits, as well as orbital decay caused by the emission of gravitational waves and effects related to the relativity of direction.
In general relativity, the apsides of any orbit (the point of the orbiting body's closest approach to the system's center of mass) will precess; the orbit is not an ellipse, but akin to an ellipse that rotates on its focus, resulting in a rose curve-like shape (see image). Einstein first derived this result by using an approximate metric representing the Newtonian limit and treating the orbiting body as a test particle. For him, the fact that his theory gave a straightforward explanation of Mercury's anomalous perihelion shift, discovered earlier by Urbain Le Verrier in 1859, was important evidence that he had at last identified the correct form of the gravitational field equations.
The effect can also be derived by using either the exact Schwarzschild metric (describing spacetime around a spherical mass) or the much more general post-Newtonian formalism. It is due to the influence of gravity on the geometry of space and to the contribution of self-energy to a body's gravity (encoded in the nonlinearity of Einstein's equations). Relativistic precession has been observed for all planets that allow for accurate precession measurements (Mercury, Venus, and Earth), as well as in binary pulsar systems, where it is larger by five orders of magnitude.
In general relativity the perihelion shift σ, expressed in radians per revolution, is approximately given by:
According to general relativity, a binary system will emit gravitational waves, thereby losing energy. Due to this loss, the distance between the two orbiting bodies decreases, and so does their orbital period. Within the Solar System or for ordinary double stars, the effect is too small to be observable. This is not the case for a close binary pulsar, a system of two orbiting neutron stars, one of which is a pulsar: from the pulsar, observers on Earth receive a regular series of radio pulses that can serve as a highly accurate clock, which allows precise measurements of the orbital period. Because neutron stars are immensely compact, significant amounts of energy are emitted in the form of gravitational radiation.
The first observation of a decrease in orbital period due to the emission of gravitational waves was made by Hulse and Taylor, using the binary pulsar PSR1913+16 they had discovered in 1974. This was the first detection of gravitational waves, albeit indirect, for which they were awarded the 1993 Nobel Prize in physics. Since then, several other binary pulsars have been found, in particular the double pulsar PSR J0737-3039, in which both stars are pulsars.
Several relativistic effects are directly related to the relativity of direction. One is geodetic precession: the axis direction of a gyroscope in free fall in curved spacetime will change when compared, for instance, with the direction of light received from distant stars—even though such a gyroscope represents the way of keeping a direction as stable as possible ("parallel transport"). For the Moon–Earth system, this effect has been measured with the help of lunar laser ranging. More recently, it has been measured for test masses aboard the satellite Gravity Probe B to a precision of better than 0.3%.
Near a rotating mass, there are gravitomagnetic or frame-dragging effects. A distant observer will determine that objects close to the mass get "dragged around". This is most extreme for rotating black holes where, for any object entering a zone known as the ergosphere, rotation is inevitable. Such effects can again be tested through their influence on the orientation of gyroscopes in free fall. Somewhat controversial tests have been performed using the LAGEOS satellites, confirming the relativistic prediction. Also the Mars Global Surveyor probe around Mars has been used.
The deflection of light by gravity is responsible for a new class of astronomical phenomena. If a massive object is situated between the astronomer and a distant target object with appropriate mass and relative distances, the astronomer will see multiple distorted images of the target. Such effects are known as gravitational lensing. Depending on the configuration, scale, and mass distribution, there can be two or more images, a bright ring known as an Einstein ring, or partial rings called arcs. The earliest example was discovered in 1979; since then, more than a hundred gravitational lenses have been observed. Even if the multiple images are too close to each other to be resolved, the effect can still be measured, e.g., as an overall brightening of the target object; a number of such "microlensing events" have been observed.
Gravitational lensing has developed into a tool of observational astronomy. It is used to detect the presence and distribution of dark matter, provide a "natural telescope" for observing distant galaxies, and to obtain an independent estimate of the Hubble constant. Statistical evaluations of lensing data provide valuable insight into the structural evolution of galaxies.
Observations of binary pulsars provide strong indirect evidence for the existence of gravitational waves (see Orbital decay, above). Detection of these waves is a major goal of current relativity-related research. Several land-based gravitational wave detectors are currently in operation, most notably the interferometric detectors GEO 600, LIGO (two detectors), TAMA 300 and VIRGO. Various pulsar timing arrays are using millisecond pulsars to detect gravitational waves in the 10−9 to 10−6 Hertz frequency range, which originate from binary supermassive blackholes. A European space-based detector, eLISA / NGO, is currently under development, with a precursor mission (LISA Pathfinder) having launched in December 2015.
Observations of gravitational waves promise to complement observations in the electromagnetic spectrum. They are expected to yield information about black holes and other dense objects such as neutron stars and white dwarfs, about certain kinds of supernova implosions, and about processes in the very early universe, including the signature of certain types of hypothetical cosmic string. In February 2016, the Advanced LIGO team announced that they had detected gravitational waves from a black hole merger.
Whenever the ratio of an object's mass to its radius becomes sufficiently large, general relativity predicts the formation of a black hole, a region of space from which nothing, not even light, can escape. In the currently accepted models of stellar evolution, neutron stars of around 1.4 solar masses, and stellar black holes with a few to a few dozen solar masses, are thought to be the final state for the evolution of massive stars. Usually a galaxy has one supermassive black hole with a few million to a few billion solar masses in its center, and its presence is thought to have played an important role in the formation of the galaxy and larger cosmic structures.
Astronomically, the most important property of compact objects is that they provide a supremely efficient mechanism for converting gravitational energy into electromagnetic radiation. Accretion, the falling of dust or gaseous matter onto stellar or supermassive black holes, is thought to be responsible for some spectacularly luminous astronomical objects, notably diverse kinds of active galactic nuclei on galactic scales and stellar-size objects such as microquasars. In particular, accretion can lead to relativistic jets, focused beams of highly energetic particles that are being flung into space at almost light speed. General relativity plays a central role in modelling all these phenomena, and observations provide strong evidence for the existence of black holes with the properties predicted by the theory.
Black holes are also sought-after targets in the search for gravitational waves (cf. Gravitational waves, above). Merging black hole binaries should lead to some of the strongest gravitational wave signals reaching detectors here on Earth, and the phase directly before the merger ("chirp") could be used as a "standard candle" to deduce the distance to the merger events–and hence serve as a probe of cosmic expansion at large distances. The gravitational waves produced as a stellar black hole plunges into a supermassive one should provide direct information about the supermassive black hole's geometry.
The current models of cosmology are based on Einstein's field equations, which include the cosmological constant Λ since it has important influence on the large-scale dynamics of the cosmos,
where is the spacetime metric. Isotropic and homogeneous solutions of these enhanced equations, the Friedmann–Lemaître–Robertson–Walker solutions, allow physicists to model a universe that has evolved over the past 14 billion years from a hot, early Big Bang phase. Once a small number of parameters (for example the universe's mean matter density) have been fixed by astronomical observation, further observational data can be used to put the models to the test. Predictions, all successful, include the initial abundance of chemical elements formed in a period of primordial nucleosynthesis, the large-scale structure of the universe, and the existence and properties of a "thermal echo" from the early cosmos, the cosmic background radiation.
Astronomical observations of the cosmological expansion rate allow the total amount of matter in the universe to be estimated, although the nature of that matter remains mysterious in part. About 90% of all matter appears to be dark matter, which has mass (or, equivalently, gravitational influence), but does not interact electromagnetically and, hence, cannot be observed directly. There is no generally accepted description of this new kind of matter, within the framework of known particle physics or otherwise. Observational evidence from redshift surveys of distant supernovae and measurements of the cosmic background radiation also show that the evolution of our universe is significantly influenced by a cosmological constant resulting in an acceleration of cosmic expansion or, equivalently, by a form of energy with an unusual equation of state, known as dark energy, the nature of which remains unclear.
An inflationary phase, an additional phase of strongly accelerated expansion at cosmic times of around 10−33 seconds, was hypothesized in 1980 to account for several puzzling observations that were unexplained by classical cosmological models, such as the nearly perfect homogeneity of the cosmic background radiation. Recent measurements of the cosmic background radiation have resulted in the first evidence for this scenario. However, there is a bewildering variety of possible inflationary scenarios, which cannot be restricted by current observations. An even larger question is the physics of the earliest universe, prior to the inflationary phase and close to where the classical models predict the big bang singularity. An authoritative answer would require a complete theory of quantum gravity, which has not yet been developed (cf. the section on quantum gravity, below).
Kurt Gödel showed that solutions to Einstein's equations exist that contain closed timelike curves (CTCs), which allow for loops in time. The solutions require extreme physical conditions unlikely ever to occur in practice, and it remains an open question whether further laws of physics will eliminate them completely. Since then, other—similarly impractical—GR solutions containing CTCs have been found, such as the Tipler cylinder and traversable wormholes.
In general relativity, no material body can catch up with or overtake a light pulse. No influence from an event A can reach any other location X before light sent out at A to X. In consequence, an exploration of all light worldlines (null geodesics) yields key information about the spacetime's causal structure. This structure can be displayed using Penrose–Carter diagrams in which infinitely large regions of space and infinite time intervals are shrunk ("compactified") so as to fit onto a finite map, while light still travels along diagonals as in standard spacetime diagrams.
Aware of the importance of causal structure, Roger Penrose and others developed what is known as global geometry. In global geometry, the object of study is not one particular solution (or family of solutions) to Einstein's equations. Rather, relations that hold true for all geodesics, such as the Raychaudhuri equation, and additional non-specific assumptions about the nature of matter (usually in the form of energy conditions) are used to derive general results.
Using global geometry, some spacetimes can be shown to contain boundaries called horizons, which demarcate one region from the rest of spacetime. The best-known examples are black holes: if mass is compressed into a sufficiently compact region of space (as specified in the hoop conjecture, the relevant length scale is the Schwarzschild radius), no light from inside can escape to the outside. Since no object can overtake a light pulse, all interior matter is imprisoned as well. Passage from the exterior to the interior is still possible, showing that the boundary, the black hole's horizon, is not a physical barrier.
Early studies of black holes relied on explicit solutions of Einstein's equations, notably the spherically symmetric Schwarzschild solution (used to describe a static black hole) and the axisymmetric Kerr solution (used to describe a rotating, stationary black hole, and introducing interesting features such as the ergosphere). Using global geometry, later studies have revealed more general properties of black holes. In the long run, they are rather simple objects characterized by eleven parameters specifying energy, linear momentum, angular momentum, location at a specified time and electric charge. This is stated by the black hole uniqueness theorems: "black holes have no hair", that is, no distinguishing marks like the hairstyles of humans. Irrespective of the complexity of a gravitating object collapsing to form a black hole, the object that results (having emitted gravitational waves) is very simple.
Even more remarkably, there is a general set of laws known as black hole mechanics, which is analogous to the laws of thermodynamics. For instance, by the second law of black hole mechanics, the area of the event horizon of a general black hole will never decrease with time, analogous to the entropy of a thermodynamic system. This limits the energy that can be extracted by classical means from a rotating black hole (e.g. by the Penrose process). There is strong evidence that the laws of black hole mechanics are, in fact, a subset of the laws of thermodynamics, and that the black hole area is proportional to its entropy. This leads to a modification of the original laws of black hole mechanics: for instance, as the second law of black hole mechanics becomes part of the second law of thermodynamics, it is possible for black hole area to decrease—as long as other processes ensure that, overall, entropy increases. As thermodynamical objects with non-zero temperature, black holes should emit thermal radiation. Semi-classical calculations indicate that indeed they do, with the surface gravity playing the role of temperature in Planck's law. This radiation is known as Hawking radiation (cf. the quantum theory section, below).
There are other types of horizons. In an expanding universe, an observer may find that some regions of the past cannot be observed ("particle horizon"), and some regions of the future cannot be influenced (event horizon). Even in flat Minkowski space, when described by an accelerated observer (Rindler space), there will be horizons associated with a semi-classical radiation known as Unruh radiation.
Another general feature of general relativity is the appearance of spacetime boundaries known as singularities. Spacetime can be explored by following up on timelike and lightlike geodesics—all possible ways that light and particles in free fall can travel. But some solutions of Einstein's equations have "ragged edges"—regions known as spacetime singularities, where the paths of light and falling particles come to an abrupt end, and geometry becomes ill-defined. In the more interesting cases, these are "curvature singularities", where geometrical quantities characterizing spacetime curvature, such as the Ricci scalar, take on infinite values. Well-known examples of spacetimes with future singularities—where worldlines end—are the Schwarzschild solution, which describes a singularity inside an eternal static black hole, or the Kerr solution with its ring-shaped singularity inside an eternal rotating black hole. The Friedmann–Lemaître–Robertson–Walker solutions and other spacetimes describing universes have past singularities on which worldlines begin, namely Big Bang singularities, and some have future singularities (Big Crunch) as well.
Given that these examples are all highly symmetric—and thus simplified—it is tempting to conclude that the occurrence of singularities is an artifact of idealization. The famous singularity theorems, proved using the methods of global geometry, say otherwise: singularities are a generic feature of general relativity, and unavoidable once the collapse of an object with realistic matter properties has proceeded beyond a certain stage and also at the beginning of a wide class of expanding universes. However, the theorems say little about the properties of singularities, and much of current research is devoted to characterizing these entities' generic structure (hypothesized e.g. by the BKL conjecture). The cosmic censorship hypothesis states that all realistic future singularities (no perfect symmetries, matter with realistic properties) are safely hidden away behind a horizon, and thus invisible to all distant observers. While no formal proof yet exists, numerical simulations offer supporting evidence of its validity.
Each solution of Einstein's equation encompasses the whole history of a universe — it is not just some snapshot of how things are, but a whole, possibly matter-filled, spacetime. It describes the state of matter and geometry everywhere and at every moment in that particular universe. Due to its general covariance, Einstein's theory is not sufficient by itself to determine the time evolution of the metric tensor. It must be combined with a coordinate condition, which is analogous to gauge fixing in other field theories.
To understand Einstein's equations as partial differential equations, it is helpful to formulate them in a way that describes the evolution of the universe over time. This is done in "3+1" formulations, where spacetime is split into three space dimensions and one time dimension. The best-known example is the ADM formalism. These decompositions show that the spacetime evolution equations of general relativity are well-behaved: solutions always exist, and are uniquely defined, once suitable initial conditions have been specified. Such formulations of Einstein's field equations are the basis of numerical relativity.
The notion of evolution equations is intimately tied in with another aspect of general relativistic physics. In Einstein's theory, it turns out to be impossible to find a general definition for a seemingly simple property such as a system's total mass (or energy). The main reason is that the gravitational field—like any physical field—must be ascribed a certain energy, but that it proves to be fundamentally impossible to localize that energy.
Nevertheless, there are possibilities to define a system's total mass, either using a hypothetical "infinitely distant observer" (ADM mass) or suitable symmetries (Komar mass). If one excludes from the system's total mass the energy being carried away to infinity by gravitational waves, the result is the Bondi mass at null infinity. Just as in classical physics, it can be shown that these masses are positive. Corresponding global definitions exist for momentum and angular momentum. There have also been a number of attempts to define quasi-local quantities, such as the mass of an isolated system formulated using only quantities defined within a finite region of space containing that system. The hope is to obtain a quantity useful for general statements about isolated systems, such as a more precise formulation of the hoop conjecture.
If general relativity were considered to be one of the two pillars of modern physics, then quantum theory, the basis of understanding matter from elementary particles to solid state physics, would be the other. However, how to reconcile quantum theory with general relativity is still an open question.
Ordinary quantum field theories, which form the basis of modern elementary particle physics, are defined in flat Minkowski space, which is an excellent approximation when it comes to describing the behavior of microscopic particles in weak gravitational fields like those found on Earth. In order to describe situations in which gravity is strong enough to influence (quantum) matter, yet not strong enough to require quantization itself, physicists have formulated quantum field theories in curved spacetime. These theories rely on general relativity to describe a curved background spacetime, and define a generalized quantum field theory to describe the behavior of quantum matter within that spacetime. Using this formalism, it can be shown that black holes emit a blackbody spectrum of particles known as Hawking radiation leading to the possibility that they evaporate over time. As briefly mentioned above, this radiation plays an important role for the thermodynamics of black holes.
The demand for consistency between a quantum description of matter and a geometric description of spacetime, as well as the appearance of singularities (where curvature length scales become microscopic), indicate the need for a full theory of quantum gravity: for an adequate description of the interior of black holes, and of the very early universe, a theory is required in which gravity and the associated geometry of spacetime are described in the language of quantum physics. Despite major efforts, no complete and consistent theory of quantum gravity is currently known, even though a number of promising candidates exist.
Attempts to generalize ordinary quantum field theories, used in elementary particle physics to describe fundamental interactions, so as to include gravity have led to serious problems. Some have argued that at low energies, this approach proves successful, in that it results in an acceptable effective (quantum) field theory of gravity. At very high energies, however, the perturbative results are badly divergent and lead to models devoid of predictive power ("perturbative non-renormalizability").
One attempt to overcome these limitations is string theory, a quantum theory not of point particles, but of minute one-dimensional extended objects. The theory promises to be a unified description of all particles and interactions, including gravity; the price to pay is unusual features such as six extra dimensions of space in addition to the usual three. In what is called the second superstring revolution, it was conjectured that both string theory and a unification of general relativity and supersymmetry known as supergravity form part of a hypothesized eleven-dimensional model known as M-theory, which would constitute a uniquely defined and consistent theory of quantum gravity.
Another approach starts with the canonical quantization procedures of quantum theory. Using the initial-value-formulation of general relativity (cf. evolution equations above), the result is the Wheeler–deWitt equation (an analogue of the Schrödinger equation) which, regrettably, turns out to be ill-defined without a proper ultraviolet (lattice) cutoff. However, with the introduction of what are now known as Ashtekar variables, this leads to a promising model known as loop quantum gravity. Space is represented by a web-like structure called a spin network, evolving over time in discrete steps.
Depending on which features of general relativity and quantum theory are accepted unchanged, and on what level changes are introduced, there are numerous other attempts to arrive at a viable theory of quantum gravity, some examples being the lattice theory of gravity based on the Feynman Path Integral approach and Regge Calculus, dynamical triangulations, causal sets, twistor models or the path integral based models of quantum cosmology.
All candidate theories still have major formal and conceptual problems to overcome. They also face the common problem that, as yet, there is no way to put quantum gravity predictions to experimental tests (and thus to decide between the candidates where their predictions vary), although there is hope for this to change as future data from cosmological observations and particle physics experiments becomes available.
General relativity has emerged as a highly successful model of gravitation and cosmology, which has so far passed many unambiguous observational and experimental tests. However, there are strong indications the theory is incomplete. The problem of quantum gravity and the question of the reality of spacetime singularities remain open. Observational data that is taken as evidence for dark energy and dark matter could indicate the need for new physics. Even taken as is, general relativity is rich with possibilities for further exploration. Mathematical relativists seek to understand the nature of singularities and the fundamental properties of Einstein's equations, while numerical relativists run increasingly powerful computer simulations (such as those describing merging black holes). In February 2016, it was announced that the existence of gravitational waves was directly detected by the Advanced LIGO team on September 14, 2015. A century after its introduction, general relativity remains a highly active area of research.
Anti-gravity (also known as non-gravitational field) is a theory of creating a place or object that is free from the force of gravity. It does not refer to the lack of weight under gravity experienced in free fall or orbit, or to balancing the force of gravity with some other force, such as electromagnetism or aerodynamic lift. Anti-gravity is a recurring concept in science fiction, particularly in the context of spacecraft propulsion. Examples are the gravity blocking substance "Cavorite" in H. G. Wells's The First Men in the Moon and the Spindizzy machines in James Blish's Cities in Flight.
In Newton's law of universal gravitation, gravity was an external force transmitted by unknown means. In the 20th century, Newton's model was replaced by general relativity where gravity is not a force but the result of the geometry of spacetime. Under general relativity, anti-gravity is impossible except under contrived circumstances. Quantum physicists have postulated the existence of gravitons, massless elementary particles that transmit gravitational force, but the possibility of creating or destroying these is unclear.
"Anti-gravity" is often used to refer to devices that look as if they reverse gravity even though they operate through other means, such as lifters, which fly in the air by moving air with electromagnetic fields.Black hole
A black hole is a region of spacetime exhibiting such strong gravitational effects that nothing—not even particles and electromagnetic radiation such as light—can escape from inside it. The theory of general relativity predicts that a sufficiently compact mass can deform spacetime to form a black hole. The boundary of the region from which no escape is possible is called the event horizon. Although the event horizon has an enormous effect on the fate and circumstances of an object crossing it, no locally detectable features appear to be observed. In many ways, a black hole acts like an ideal black body, as it reflects no light. Moreover, quantum field theory in curved spacetime predicts that event horizons emit Hawking radiation, with the same spectrum as a black body of a temperature inversely proportional to its mass. This temperature is on the order of billionths of a kelvin for black holes of stellar mass, making it essentially impossible to observe.
Objects whose gravitational fields are too strong for light to escape were first considered in the 18th century by John Michell and Pierre-Simon Laplace. The first modern solution of general relativity that would characterize a black hole was found by Karl Schwarzschild in 1916, although its interpretation as a region of space from which nothing can escape was first published by David Finkelstein in 1958. Black holes were long considered a mathematical curiosity; it was during the 1960s that theoretical work showed they were a generic prediction of general relativity. The discovery of neutron stars by Jocelyn Bell Burnell in 1967 sparked interest in gravitationally collapsed compact objects as a possible astrophysical reality.
Black holes of stellar mass are expected to form when very massive stars collapse at the end of their life cycle. After a black hole has formed, it can continue to grow by absorbing mass from its surroundings. By absorbing other stars and merging with other black holes, supermassive black holes of millions of solar masses (M☉) may form. There is general consensus that supermassive black holes exist in the centers of most galaxies.
Despite its invisible interior, the presence of a black hole can be inferred through its interaction with other matter and with electromagnetic radiation such as visible light. Matter that falls onto a black hole can form an external accretion disk heated by friction, forming some of the brightest objects in the universe. If there are other stars orbiting a black hole, their orbits can be used to determine the black hole's mass and location. Such observations can be used to exclude possible alternatives such as neutron stars. In this way, astronomers have identified numerous stellar black hole candidates in binary systems, and established that the radio source known as Sagittarius A*, at the core of the Milky Way galaxy, contains a supermassive black hole of about 4.3 million solar masses.
On 11 February 2016, the LIGO collaboration announced the first direct detection of gravitational waves, which also represented the first observation of a black hole merger. As of December 2018, eleven gravitational wave events have been observed that originated from ten merging black holes (along with one binary neutron star merger). On 10 April 2019, the first ever direct image of a black hole and its vicinity was published, following observations made by the Event Horizon Telescope in 2017 of the supermassive black hole in Messier 87's galactic centre.Einstein field equations
The Einstein field equations (EFE; also known as Einstein's equations) comprise the set of 10 equations in Albert Einstein's general theory of relativity that describe the fundamental interaction of gravitation as a result of spacetime being curved by mass and energy. First published by Einstein in 1915 as a tensor equation, the EFE relate local spacetime curvature (expressed by the Einstein tensor) with the local energy and momentum within that spacetime (expressed by the stress–energy tensor).Similar to the way that electromagnetic fields are determined using charges and currents via Maxwell's equations, the EFE are used to determine the spacetime geometry resulting from the presence of mass–energy and linear momentum, that is, they determine the metric tensor of spacetime for a given arrangement of stress–energy in the spacetime. The relationship between the metric tensor and the Einstein tensor allows the EFE to be written as a set of non-linear partial differential equations when used in this way. The solutions of the EFE are the components of the metric tensor. The inertial trajectories of particles and radiation (geodesics) in the resulting geometry are then calculated using the geodesic equation.
As well as obeying local energy–momentum conservation, the EFE reduce to Newton's law of gravitation where the gravitational field is weak and velocities are much less than the speed of light.Exact solutions for the EFE can only be found under simplifying assumptions such as symmetry. Special classes of exact solutions are most often studied as they model many gravitational phenomena, such as rotating black holes and the expanding universe. Further simplification is achieved in approximating the actual spacetime as flat spacetime with a small deviation, leading to the linearized EFE. These equations are used to study phenomena such as gravitational waves.Event horizon
In general relativity, an event horizon (EH) is a region in spacetime beyond which events cannot affect an outside observer. In layman's terms, it is defined as the shell of "points of no return", i.e., the boundary at which the gravitational pull of a massive object becomes so great as to make escape impossible. An event horizon is most commonly associated with black holes. Light emitted from inside the event horizon can never reach the outside observer, and the outside observer cannot see beyond the event horizon. Moreover, any object approaching the horizon from the observer's side appears to slow down and never quite pass through the horizon, with its image becoming more and more redshifted as time elapses. This means that the wavelength of the light emitted from the object is getting longer as the object moves away from the observer. The travelling object, however, experiences no strange effects and does, in fact, pass through the horizon in a finite amount of proper time.
More specific types of horizon include the related but distinct absolute and apparent horizons found around a black hole. Still other distinct notions include the Cauchy and Killing horizons; the photon spheres and ergospheres of the Kerr solution; particle and cosmological horizons relevant to cosmology; and isolated and dynamical horizons important in current black hole research.Gravitational energy
Gravitational energy is the potential energy a body with mass has in relation to another massive object due to gravity. It is potential energy associated with the gravitational field. Gravitational energy is dependent on the masses of two bodies, their distance apart and the gravitational constant (G).
In everyday cases only one body is accelerating measurably, and its acceleration is constant (for example, dropping a ball on Earth). For such scenarios the Newtonian formula can – for the potential energy of the accelerating body with respect to the stationary – be reduced to:
where is the gravitational potential energy, is the mass of the object accelerating, is the acceleration of the object, and is the distance between the bodies. This formula treats the potential energy as a positive quantity.Gravitational field
In physics, a gravitational field is a model used to explain the influence that a massive body extends into the space around itself, producing a force on another massive body. Thus, a gravitational field is used to explain gravitational phenomena, and is measured in newtons per kilogram (N/kg). In its original concept, gravity was a force between point masses. Following Isaac Newton, Pierre-Simon Laplace attempted to model gravity as some kind of radiation field or fluid, and since the 19th century explanations for gravity have usually been taught in terms of a field model, rather than a point attraction.
In a field model, rather than two particles attracting each other, the particles distort spacetime via their mass, and this distortion is what is perceived and measured as a "force". In such a model one states that matter moves in certain ways in response to the curvature of spacetime, and that there is either no gravitational force, or that gravity is a fictitious force.Gravitational singularity
A gravitational singularity, spacetime singularity or simply singularity is a location in spacetime where the gravitational field of a celestial body is predicted to become infinite by general relativity in a way that does not depend on the coordinate system. The quantities used to measure gravitational field strength are the scalar invariant curvatures of spacetime, which includes a measure of the density of matter. Since such quantities become infinite within the singularity, the laws of normal spacetime cannot exist.Gravitational singularities are mainly considered within general relativity, where density apparently becomes infinite at the center of a black hole, and within astrophysics and cosmology as the earliest state of the universe during the Big Bang. Physicists are undecided whether the prediction of singularities means that they actually exist (or existed at the start of the Big Bang), or that current knowledge is insufficient to describe what happens at such extreme densities.
General relativity predicts that any object collapsing beyond a certain point (for stars this is the Schwarzschild radius) would form a black hole, inside which a singularity (covered by an event horizon) would be formed. The Penrose–Hawking singularity theorems define a singularity to have geodesics that cannot be extended in a smooth manner. The termination of such a geodesic is considered to be the singularity.
The initial state of the universe, at the beginning of the Big Bang, is also predicted by modern theories to have been a singularity. In this case the universe did not collapse into a black hole, because currently-known calculations and density limits for gravitational collapse are usually based upon objects of relatively constant size, such as stars, and do not necessarily apply in the same way to rapidly expanding space such as the Big Bang. Neither general relativity nor quantum mechanics can currently describe the earliest moments of the Big Bang, but in general, quantum mechanics does not permit particles to inhabit a space smaller than their wavelengths.Gravity
Gravity (from Latin gravitas, meaning 'weight'), or gravitation, is a natural phenomenon by which all things with mass or energy—including planets, stars, galaxies, and even light—are brought toward (or gravitate toward) one another. On Earth, gravity gives weight to physical objects, and the Moon's gravity causes the ocean tides. The gravitational attraction of the original gaseous matter present in the Universe caused it to begin coalescing, forming stars – and for the stars to group together into galaxies – so gravity is responsible for many of the large-scale structures in the Universe. Gravity has an infinite range, although its effects become increasingly weaker on farther objects.
Gravity is most accurately described by the general theory of relativity (proposed by Albert Einstein in 1915) which describes gravity not as a force, but as a consequence of the curvature of spacetime caused by the uneven distribution of mass. The most extreme example of this curvature of spacetime is a black hole, from which nothing—not even light—can escape once past the black hole's event horizon. However, for most applications, gravity is well approximated by Newton's law of universal gravitation, which describes gravity as a force which causes any two bodies to be attracted to each other, with the force proportional to the product of their masses and inversely proportional to the square of the distance between them.
Gravity is the weakest of the four fundamental forces of physics, approximately 1038 times weaker than the strong force, 1036 times weaker than the electromagnetic force and 1029 times weaker than the weak force. As a consequence, it has no significant influence at the level of subatomic particles. In contrast, it is the dominant force at the macroscopic scale, and is the cause of the formation, shape and trajectory (orbit) of astronomical bodies. For example, gravity causes the Earth and the other planets to orbit the Sun, it also causes the Moon to orbit the Earth, and causes the formation of tides, the formation and evolution of the Solar System, stars and galaxies.
The earliest instance of gravity in the Universe, possibly in the form of quantum gravity, supergravity or a gravitational singularity, along with ordinary space and time, developed during the Planck epoch (up to 10−43 seconds after the birth of the Universe), possibly from a primeval state, such as a false vacuum, quantum vacuum or virtual particle, in a currently unknown manner. Attempts to develop a theory of gravity consistent with quantum mechanics, a quantum gravity theory, which would allow gravity to be united in a common mathematical framework (a theory of everything) with the other three forces of physics, are a current area of research.History of general relativity
General relativity (GR) is a theory of gravitation that was developed by Albert Einstein between 1907 and 1915, with contributions by many others after 1915. According to general relativity, the observed gravitational attraction between masses results from the warping of space and time by those masses.
Before the advent of general relativity, Newton's law of universal gravitation had been accepted for more than two hundred years as a valid description of the gravitational force between masses, even though Newton himself did not regard the theory as the final word on the nature of gravity. Within a century of Newton's formulation, careful astronomical observation revealed unexplainable variations between the theory and the observations. Under Newton's model, gravity was the result of an attractive force between massive objects. Although even Newton was bothered by the unknown nature of that force, the basic framework was extremely successful at describing motion.
However, experiments and observations show that Einstein's description accounts for several effects that are unexplained by Newton's law, such as minute anomalies in the orbits of Mercury and other planets. General relativity also predicts novel effects of gravity, such as gravitational waves, gravitational lensing and an effect of gravity on time known as gravitational time dilation. Many of these predictions have been confirmed by experiment or observation, while others are the subject of ongoing research.
General relativity has developed into an essential tool in modern astrophysics. It provides the foundation for the current understanding of black holes, regions of space where gravitational attraction is so strong that not even light can escape. Their strong gravity is thought to be responsible for the intense radiation emitted by certain types of astronomical objects (such as active galactic nuclei or microquasars). General relativity is also part of the framework of the standard Big Bang model of cosmology.Introduction to general relativity
General relativity is a theory of gravitation that was developed by Albert Einstein between 1907 and 1915. According to general relativity, the observed gravitational effect between masses results from their warping of spacetime.
By the beginning of the 20th century, Newton's law of universal gravitation had been accepted for more than two hundred years as a valid description of the gravitational force between masses. In Newton's model, gravity is the result of an attractive force between massive objects. Although even Newton was troubled by the unknown nature of that force, the basic framework was extremely successful at describing motion.
Experiments and observations show that Einstein's description of gravitation accounts for several effects that are unexplained by Newton's law, such as minute anomalies in the orbits of Mercury and other planets. General relativity also predicts novel effects of gravity, such as gravitational waves, gravitational lensing and an effect of gravity on time known as gravitational time dilation. Many of these predictions have been confirmed by experiment or observation, most recently gravitational waves.
General relativity has developed into an essential tool in modern astrophysics. It provides the foundation for the current understanding of black holes, regions of space where the gravitational effect is strong enough that even light cannot escape. Their strong gravity is thought to be responsible for the intense radiation emitted by certain types of astronomical objects (such as active galactic nuclei or microquasars). General relativity is also part of the framework of the standard Big Bang model of cosmology.
Although general relativity is not the only relativistic theory of gravity, it is the simplest such theory that is consistent with the experimental data. Nevertheless, a number of open questions remain, the most fundamental of which is how general relativity can be reconciled with the laws of quantum physics to produce a complete and self-consistent theory of quantum gravity.Mathematics of general relativity
The mathematics of general relativity refers to various mathematical structures and techniques that are used in studying and formulating Albert Einstein's theory of general relativity. The main tools used in this geometrical theory of gravitation are tensor fields defined on a Lorentzian manifold representing spacetime. This article is a general description of the mathematics of general relativity.
Note: General relativity articles using tensors will use the abstract index notation.Quantum gravity
Quantum gravity (QG) is a field of theoretical physics that seeks to describe gravity according to the principles of quantum mechanics, and where quantum effects cannot be ignored, such as near compact astrophysical objects where the effects of gravity are strong.
The current understanding of gravity is based on Albert Einstein's general theory of relativity, which is formulated within the framework of classical physics. On the other hand, the other three fundamental forces of physics are described within the framework of quantum mechanics and quantum field theory, radically different formalisms for describing physical phenomena. It is sometimes argued that a quantum mechanical description of gravity is necessary on the grounds that one cannot consistently couple a classical system to a quantum one.While a quantum theory of gravity may be needed to reconcile general relativity with the principles of quantum mechanics, difficulties arise when applying the usual prescriptions of quantum field theory to the force of gravity via graviton bosons. The problem is that the theory one gets in this way is not renormalizable (it predicts infinite values for some observable properties such as the mass of particles) and therefore cannot be used to make meaningful physical predictions. As a result, theorists have taken up more radical approaches to the problem of quantum gravity, the most popular approaches being string theory and loop quantum gravity. Although some quantum gravity theories, such as string theory, try to unify gravity with the other fundamental forces, others, such as loop quantum gravity, make no such attempt; instead, they make an effort to quantize the gravitational field while it is kept separate from the other forces.
Strictly speaking, the aim of quantum gravity is only to describe the quantum behavior of the gravitational field and should not be confused with the objective of unifying all fundamental interactions into a single mathematical framework. A quantum field theory of gravity that is unified with a grand unified theory is sometimes referred to as a theory of everything (TOE). While any substantial improvement into the present understanding of gravity would aid further work towards unification, the study of quantum gravity is a field in its own right with various branches having different approaches to unification.
One of the difficulties of formulating a quantum gravity theory is that quantum gravitational effects only appear at length scales near the Planck scale, around 10−35 meter, a scale far smaller, and equivalently far larger in energy, than those currently accessible by high energy particle accelerators. Therefore physicists lack experimental data which could distinguish between the competing theories which have been proposed and thus thought experiment approaches are suggested as a testing tool for these theories.Schwarzschild metric
In Einstein's theory of general relativity, the Schwarzschild metric (also known as the Schwarzschild vacuum or Schwarzschild solution) is the solution to the Einstein field equations that describes the gravitational field outside a spherical mass, on the assumption that the electric charge of the mass, angular momentum of the mass, and universal cosmological constant are all zero. The solution is a useful approximation for describing slowly rotating astronomical objects such as many stars and planets, including Earth and the Sun. It was found by Karl Schwarzschild in 1916, and around the same time independently by Johannes Droste, who published his much more complete and modern-looking discussion only four months after Schwarzschild.
According to Birkhoff's theorem, the Schwarzschild metric is the most general spherically symmetric vacuum solution of the Einstein field equations. A Schwarzschild black hole or static black hole is a black hole that has neither electric charge nor angular momentum. A Schwarzschild black hole is described by the Schwarzschild metric, and cannot be distinguished from any other Schwarzschild black hole except by its mass.
The Schwarzschild black hole is characterized by a surrounding spherical boundary, called the event horizon, which is situated at the Schwarzschild radius, often called the radius of a black hole. The boundary is not a physical surface, and if a person fell through the event horizon (before being torn apart by tidal forces), they would not notice any physical surface at that position; it is a mathematical surface which is significant in determining the black hole's properties. Any non-rotating and non-charged mass that is smaller than its Schwarzschild radius forms a black hole. The solution of the Einstein field equations is valid for any mass M, so in principle (according to general relativity theory) a Schwarzschild black hole of any mass could exist if conditions became sufficiently favorable to allow for its formation.Stress–energy tensor
The stress–energy tensor, sometimes stress–energy–momentum tensor or energy–momentum tensor, is a tensor quantity in physics that describes the density and flux of energy and momentum in spacetime, generalizing the stress tensor of Newtonian physics. It is an attribute of matter, radiation, and non-gravitational force fields. The stress–energy tensor is the source of the gravitational field in the Einstein field equations of general relativity, just as mass density is the source of such a field in Newtonian gravity.Tests of general relativity
Tests of general relativity serve to establish observational evidence for the theory of general relativity. The first three tests, proposed by Einstein in 1915, concerned the "anomalous" precession of the perihelion of Mercury, the bending of light in gravitational fields, and the gravitational redshift. The precession of Mercury was already known; experiments showing light bending in line with the predictions of general relativity was found in 1919, with increasing precision measurements done in subsequent tests, and astrophysical measurement of the gravitational redshift was claimed to be measured in 1925, although measurements sensitive enough to actually confirm the theory were not done until 1954. A program of more accurate tests starting in 1959 tested the various predictions of general relativity with a further degree of accuracy in the weak gravitational field limit, severely limiting possible deviations from the theory.
In the 1970s, additional tests began to be made, starting with Irwin Shapiro's measurement of the relativistic time delay in radar signal travel time near the sun. Beginning in 1974, Hulse, Taylor and others have studied the behaviour of binary pulsars experiencing much stronger gravitational fields than those found in the Solar System. Both in the weak field limit (as in the Solar System) and with the stronger fields present in systems of binary pulsars the predictions of general relativity have been extremely well tested locally.
In February 2016, the Advanced LIGO team announced that they had directly detected gravitational waves from a black hole merger. This discovery, along with additional detections announced in June 2016 and June 2017, tested general relativity in the very strong field limit, observing to date no deviations from theory.Theory of relativity
The theory of relativity usually encompasses two interrelated theories by Albert Einstein: special relativity and general relativity. Special relativity applies to elementary particles and their interactions, describing all their physical phenomena except gravity. General relativity explains the law of gravitation and its relation to other forces of nature. It applies to the cosmological and astrophysical realm, including astronomy.The theory transformed theoretical physics and astronomy during the 20th century, superseding a 200-year-old theory of mechanics created primarily by Isaac Newton. It introduced concepts including spacetime as a unified entity of space and time, relativity of simultaneity, kinematic and gravitational time dilation, and length contraction. In the field of physics, relativity improved the science of elementary particles and their fundamental interactions, along with ushering in the nuclear age. With relativity, cosmology and astrophysics predicted extraordinary astronomical phenomena such as neutron stars, black holes, and gravitational waves.Time travel
Time travel is the concept of movement between certain points in time, analogous to movement between different points in space by an object or a person, typically using a hypothetical device known as a time machine. Time travel is a widely-recognized concept in philosophy and fiction. The idea of a time machine was popularized by H. G. Wells' 1895 novel The Time Machine.
It is uncertain if time travel to the past is physically possible. Forward time travel, outside the usual sense of the perception of time, is an extensively-observed phenomenon and well-understood within the framework of special relativity and general relativity. However, making one body advance or delay more than a few milliseconds compared to another body is not feasible with current technology. As for backwards time travel, it is possible to find solutions in general relativity that allow for it, but the solutions require conditions that may not be physically possible. Traveling to an arbitrary point in spacetime has a very limited support in theoretical physics, and usually only connected with quantum mechanics or wormholes, also known as Einstein-Rosen bridges.White hole
In general relativity, a white hole is a hypothetical region of spacetime which cannot be entered from the outside, although matter and light can escape from it. In this sense, it is the reverse of a black hole, which can only be entered from the outside and from which matter and light cannot escape. White holes appear in the theory of eternal black holes. In addition to a black hole region in the future, such a solution of the Einstein field equations has a white hole region in its past. However, this region does not exist for black holes that have formed through gravitational collapse, nor are there any known physical processes through which a white hole could be formed. Although information and evidence regarding white holes remains inconclusive, the 2006 GRB 060614 has been proposed as the first documented occurrence of a white hole.Wormhole
A wormhole (or Einstein–Rosen bridge) is a speculative structure linking disparate points in spacetime, and is based on a special solution of the Einstein field equations solved using a Jacobian matrix and determinant. A wormhole can be visualized as a tunnel with two ends, each at separate points in spacetime (i.e., different locations or different points of time). More precisely it is a transcendental bijection of the spacetime continuum, an asymptotic projection of the Calabi–Yau manifold manifesting itself in Anti-de Sitter space.
Wormholes are consistent with the general theory of relativity, but whether wormholes actually exist remains to be seen.
A wormhole could connect extremely long distances such as a billion light years or more, short distances such as a few meters, different universes, or different points in time.