Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Einstein's Dream

PBS TV recently rebroadcast The Elegant Universe: Pt 1 - Einstein's Dream. Brian Greene says:
At the age of 26, Einstein made a startling discovery: that the velocity of light is a kind of cosmic speed limit, a speed that nothing in the universe can exceed. But no sooner had the young Einstein published this idea than he found himself squaring off with the father of gravity. ...

What's more, Einstein calculated that these ripples of gravity travel at exactly the speed of light. And so, with this new approach, Einstein resolved the conflict with Newton over how fast gravity travels.
No, Poincare resolved that in 1905, many years ahead of Einstein. Poincare's first 1905 paper said:
It was important to examine this hypothesis more closely and in particular to examine what changes it would require us to make on the law of gravitation. That is what I sought to determine; I was first led to suppose that the propagation of gravitation is not instantaneous, but happens with the speed of light. This seems at odds with results obtained by Laplace, who announced that this propagation is, if not instantaneous, at least much faster than that of light. But in reality, the question posed by Laplace differs considerably from that which occupies us here. For Laplace, the introduction of a finite velocity of propagation was the only change he brought to Newton's law. Here, on the contrary, this change is accompanied by several others; it is possible, and that is indeed what happens, that there occurs between them a partial compensation.

When we therefore speak of the position or velocity of the attracting body, it will be the position or the velocity at the time when the gravitational wave leaves the body; when we talk about the position or velocity of the attracted body, it will be the position or the velocity at the moment when this body was reached and attracted by the gravitational wave emanating from the other body; it is clear that the first instant precedes the second.
This was published and widely distributed before Einstein ever submitted anything on relativity.

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