Proving the reliability of general relativity to precisely describe the dynamics (movements) of massive bodies in the universe is fundamental to establishing the space-time theorems.1 These theorems prove the beginning (creation) of space and time. The creation of space and time implies the existence of a Creator beyond space and time, which uniquely describes the God of the Bible.
It is the theological significance of general relativity that has prompted astronomers and physicists to subject general relativity to exhaustive testing. However, one test of general relativity has proven to be elusive—namely, the Lense-Thirring effect.
Josef Lense and Hans Thirring were Austrian physicists who, in dialogue with Albert Einstein, showed in 1918 that general relativity predicts that a massive rotating body will cause the space-time fabric in its vicinity to drag. This dragging effect will cause a small-mass body orbiting a high-mass body to precess (change its rotational axis orientation).
The dragging effect, however, is extremely tiny—only a few parts per billion for a body as massive and dense as Earth (weak field case). For example, general relativity predicts that in one satellite orbit about the Earth (around 25,000 miles), the space-time fabric in the vicinity of the satellite would be dragged by only about one inch. General relativity, however, predicts more dramatic effects for bodies as massive and dense as black holes and neutron stars (strong field case).
Even though the Lense-Thirring effect was one of the first predicted distinctives of Einstein’s theory of general relativity, it was the last to be put to a set of accurate tests. It remained elusive for nearly 100 years because of how extraordinarily difficult the tests are to perform. Only within the past 15 months have astronomers and physicists finally achieved exhaustive confirmation (for both the weak and strong gravitational field cases) that the general relativistic predictions of the Lense-Thirring effect are correct.
Weak Field Confirmations
For solar system bodies, the predicted Lense-Thirring effect is extremely small. However, three laser-ranged, Earth-orbiting satellites—LAGEOS I, LAGEOS II, and LARES—have the necessary sensitivity to detect the tiny effect. Using 3.5 years of observations from LARES and several more years of observations from LAGEOS I and II, a team of a dozen astronomers established that Earth’s dragging of inertial space-time frames matched the value predicted by the Lense-Thirring effect to within 0.6 percent.2
The Gravity Probe B mission, an Earth-orbiting satellite with four precision gyroscopes on board, measured a geodetic drift rate of -6,601.8 ± 18.3 milliarcseconds per year and a frame-dragging of -37.2 ± 7.2 milliarcseconds per year.3 General relativity predicted -6,606.1 milliarcseconds per year and -39.2 milliarcseconds per year, respectively.
Strong Field Confirmations
In 2016, a team of four Polish astronomers derived jet energetics and timescales for the two pairs of extended and misaligned lobes emanating from the radio galaxy 3C 293. Their analysis demonstrated that Lense-Thirring precession generated by the supermassive black hole in 3C 293’s nucleus (black hole’s mass exceeds several tens of millions of solar masses4) caused the observed jet dynamics.5
In the same year, an international team of eight astronomers reported on their observations of the iron emission line in the X-ray spectrum of the stellar mass black hole binary H1743-322. They showed that the quasiperiodic oscillations in the iron line centroid energy are produced by Lense-Thirring precession.6 One month earlier, a team of five Chinese astronomers showed that the quasiperiodic oscillations in the X-ray spectra of the black hole X-ray binary SWIFT J1842.5-1124 are consistent with the Lense-Thirring effect.7 Four months earlier, three astronomers in the Netherlands showed that the quasiperiodic oscillations in the X-ray flux from the stellar mass black hole binary GRS 1915+105 are caused by different radii in the inner accretion flow of the black hole experiencing Lense-Thirring precession at different frequencies.8 Ten months earlier, five European and Canadian astronomers’ observations of the black hole binary SWIFT J1753.5-0127 likewise showed quasiperiodic oscillations due to the Lense-Thirring effect.9
Today, it can be said that no theory of physics has ever been tested in so many different contexts and so rigorously and exhaustively as general relativity. The fact that Einstein’s theory has withstood all these tests so remarkably well implies that no basis remains for doubting any of the theological and philosophical conclusions dependent upon it. Since general relativity accurately describes the dynamics of the universe in all contexts, the space-time theorems can be trusted. Time really does have a beginning. There really is a God who transcendently created all the space-time dimensions of our universe.
Featured image credit: Mach principle.com
- I discuss the space-time theorems in my book Why the Universe Is the Way It Is. In the forthcoming reprint of my book The Creator and the Cosmos, I demonstrate why the space-time theorems are valid both for classical general relativity and also for the extremely early moment in cosmic history where general relativity is modified by quantum mechanics (the quantum gravity era).
- Richard Matzner et al., “LARES Satellite Thermal Forces and a Test of General Relativity,” preprint, submitted September 23, 2016, arXiv:1607.08787v2; Ignazio Ciufolini et al., “A Test of General Relativity Using the LARES and LAGEOS Satellites and a GRACE Earth Gravity Model: Measurement of Earth’s Dragging of Inertial Frames,” European Physical Journal C 76 (March 2016): 120, doi:10.1140/epjc/s10052-016-3961-8.
- C. W. F. Everitt et al., “The Gravity Probe B Test of General Relativity,” Classical and Quantum Gravity 32 (November 2015): 224001, doi:10.1088/0264-9381/32/22/224001.
- R. J. Beswick et al., “High-Resolution Imaging of the Radio Continuum and Neutral Gas in the Inner Kiloparsec of the Radio Galaxy 3C 293,” Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society 352 (July 2004): 49–60, doi:10.1111/j.1365-2966.2004.07892.x; E. K. Mahony et al., “The Location and Impact of Jet-Driven Outflows of Cold Gas: The Case of 3C 293,” Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society Letters 435 (October 2013): L58–L62, doi:10.1093/mnrasl/slt094.
- J. Machalski et al., “Dynamical Analysis of the Complex Radio Structure in 3C 293: Clues on a Rapid Jet Realignment in X-shaped Radio Galaxies,” Astronomy & Astrophysics 595 (November 2016): A46, doi:10.1051/0004-6361/201629249.
- Adam Ingram et al., “A Quasi-periodic Modulation of the Iron Line Centroid Energy in the Black Hole Binary H1743-322,” Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society 461 (September 2016): 1967–80, doi:10.1093/mnras/stw1245.
- H.-H. Zhao et al., “The X-ray View of Black-Hole Candidate Swift J1842.5-1124 during Its 2008 Outburst,” Astronomy & Astrophysics 593 (September 2016): A23, doi:10.1051/0004-6361/201628647.
- Jakob van den Eijnden, Adam Ingram, and Phil Uttley, “Probing the Origin of Quasi-periodic Oscillations: The Short-Time-Scale Evolution of Phase Lags in GRS 1915+105,” Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society 458 (June 2016): 3655–66, doi:10.1093/mnras/stw610.
- Alexandra Veledina et al., “Discovery of Correlated Optical/X-ray Quasi-periodic Oscillations in Black Hole Binary SWIFT J1753.5–0127,” Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society 454 (December 2015): 2855–62, doi:10.1093/mnras/stv2201.