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B Einstein's curvature vs. Newton's

  1. May 31, 2017 #1
    I've read that observations during the solar eclipse of 1919 showed that Einstein's prediction of light's curvature passing near the Sun was exactly twice that of Newton. I have two questions:

    1. Why did Newton assume any curvature? Did he think "light particles" had mass?
    2. In the physical world very few things are exactly a given size, mass, speed, etc. Why would Einstein's curvature of light rays be exactly twice that of Newton>
     
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  3. May 31, 2017 #2

    Orodruin

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    The gravitational acceleration of a particle is independent of its mass in Newton's theory. It is equal to the gravitational field.
     
  4. May 31, 2017 #3

    Nugatory

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    The calculation in question was "If light does have some very small mass, how would it be deflected by a force obeying Newton's ##F=Gm_1m_2/r^2##?" Obviously zero mass and hence no deflection was a possible result. The important point is that the prediction of general relativity differs from the Newtonian prediction no matter what assumption we make about the mass of light, so the observation is a test of general relativity either way.
    This exact 2X comes out of the math, which unlike the real world, is exact. We're combining the same numbers (best available values for mass of sun, sun-earth distance, gravitational constant, speed of light, ....) using different formulas, so if those numbers aren't exact we won't get an exact answer for the deflection, but the ratio between the two possible answers will be exactly 2:1. An analogy: I do not know the exact charge of an electron, I cannot measure the distance between two electrons exactly, and I cannot measure the force between two electrons exactly - but I can still use Coulomb's Law (##F=Ce^2/r^2##) to tell me that if I double the distance between two electrons, the predicted force will decrease by a factor of exactly four. If my measurements come out to be 3.999998 or 4.000007 or whatever, that's still consistent with the theory.
     
    Last edited: May 31, 2017
  5. May 31, 2017 #4
    Why do you say, "in Newton's theory"? Doesn't the feather-coin experiment show that it's true, period?
     
  6. May 31, 2017 #5
    Thanks for the response. But wasn't Einstein's deflection empirically derived from the photographic plates taken during the eclipse?
     
  7. May 31, 2017 #6

    Mister T

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    Try replacing the word "theory" with the word "explanation".
     
  8. May 31, 2017 #7

    Mister T

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    I don't know that he ever did assume a curvature! Newton's theory of gravity predicts a deflection. If I understand the history correctly, in preparation for the 1913 eclipse measurements (that never took place) the scientists involved, including Einstein, thought that Newton's theory predicted zero deflection and Einstein's theory predicted 0.875 arc seconds of deflection. By the time of the 1919 eclipse they thought that Newton's theory predicted 0.875 arc seconds of deflection and Einstein's 1.75 arc seconds.

    By the way, more modern versions of this experiment use radar ranging, and have confirmed with much greater precision what the results of those eclipse observations confirmed.

    Many things are exact. For example, every electron has exactly the same mass. Every light beam has exactly the same speed. The number of protons in every Helium atom is exactly twice that of the number in every Hydrogen atom.
     
  9. May 31, 2017 #8

    Nugatory

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    No. It was calculated from Einstein's theory, and then the calculated results were compared with the observed results.
     
  10. May 31, 2017 #9
    In science we call "theory" something that has big empirical support. So he said "in Newton's theory" because the feather-coin experiment show that it's true (whatever "true" means).
     
  11. May 31, 2017 #10

    jbriggs444

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    My take is simpler. Context.

    The question was asked: Why does Newton's theory predict a deflection for light? The answer given is that Newton's theory predicts an identical deflection for any massive particle. That Newton's theory is correct for lead balls and feathers is true, but irrelevant. In context, what's relevant is what Newton's theory predicts, not what actually happens.
     
  12. May 31, 2017 #11

    PeterDonis

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    He didn't. In fact, Newton himself, AFAIK, never did any calculation like this at all. The "Newtonian" value is a much later calculation, done using Newton's law of gravity and assuming a particle moving at the speed of light just grazing the Sun. Since there is no such thing as a "massless" particle in Newton's theory (more precisely, no distinction between timelike and null worldlines), and no speed of light limit, and since the acceleration due to gravity is independent of the mass of the particle, this calculation can be done and gives a well-defined answer, which turns out to be half the answer given by GR. But the Newtonian calculation does not attribute the effect to "curvature"; it's just the force of gravity in Newton's theory.

    The mass of the particle actually drops out of the calculation, and it's not clear to me that "zero mass" makes any physical sense on Newtonian assumptions, since ##m = 0## basically means the thing doesn't exist. But I agree that even if "zero mass" does make sense in this case, it would just predict zero deflection, so either way the result is different from GR.
     
  13. May 31, 2017 #12

    pervect

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    Derived, no. Detected, yes. Einstein derived his theory before the deflection experiments were done. The deflection experiments were consistent with Einstein's theory, and showed more deflection of light than "Newtonian theory" would predict. The initial tests were not terribly precise, and some argue that they might not, in retrospect, have been definitive. Later much more precise tests have been done, and these later tests are all consistent with EInstein's theory and not consistent with "Newton's theory". Im not aware of any serious claims that the modern results aren't definitive in ruling out Newtonian gravity.

    Exactly what is meant by the Newtonian prediction of the deflection of light may be mildly unclear. I'd suggest looking up the <<wiki references>> in the following quote to see what the literature had to say about the Newtonian prediction.

    For a bit of theoretical background on the 2:1 prediction for light deflection, and on experimental tests of General Relativity, including but not limited to the light deflection tests, I'd suggest reading WIll's "The Confrontation between General Relativity and Experiment", <<link>>

    The following excerpt in particular might be helpful in understanding the significance of the equivalence principle, which is also mentioned by the OP to which this post is a reply. The point I'm trying to make is this. The equivalence principle that the OP cites is called the "weak equivalence principle". There is a stronger version, the "Einstein Equivalence principe", discussed by Wills, which can be thought of as the weak equivalence principle, plus local lorentz invaraince, plus local position invaraince, as the article describes.

    Here is the full excerpt:

    I am concerned that an important point of this, the feature of Einstein's equivalence principle called "Local Lorentz invariance", nubmer 2 in the list, may not be clear to the original poster or other non-specialist readers. This feature of General Relativity is an outgrowth of Einstein's previous theory, special relativity. Special relativity has also been well tested, one can find some discussions and references of the tests in the relativity forum's FAQ if one feel the need. I will assume that there is no need and that a fuller discussion of tests of SR would be off-topic. The point I'm trying to make is that Einstein's theoretical framework arose from his desire to make gravity consistent with special relativity, and that the technical language to describe this requirement is "local Lorentz invaraince". Furthermore I want to say that Local Lorentz invariance is a key feature of special relativity. The 2:1 deflection was a mathematical result of Einstein's theory, based on these starting assumptions, and the motivation for this was to make gravity fit into the frameork of special relativity. The prediction of light deflection came after the theory was developed as a way to test the theory. Finally, after Einstein made these predictions, the tests were carried out, and confirmed the theory - or more precisely, the tests were consistent with Einstein's theory, and not consistent with Newton's theory (as described by Soldner).

    There are other theories than Einstein's theory, generally more complex ones with additional parameters, that also satisfy Einstein's equivalence principle. Experimental work to test General Relativity is typically done in a framework in which it is assumed that one has a metric theory of gravity, which will satisfy EInstein's equivalence principle. See Will's article for more detail on "metric theories of gravity", and this issue in general.
     
  14. May 31, 2017 #13

    Orodruin

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    I am not sure I agree with the zero deflection prediction. You get the zero deflection prediction only if you decrease the gravitational mass while keeping the inertial mass fixed (or going to zero slower). If you want to treat anything like "massless" in Newtonian mechanics you should equate the masses and send them both to zero to get a well defined limit, resulting in the deflection based on the solar gravitational acceleration. As you say, the mass drops out of the acceleration equation, which would mean that any test particle (regardless of mass) starting with the same initial velocity would follow the same trajectory.
     
  15. May 31, 2017 #14

    Nugatory

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    Newton himself did consider the question of gravitational deflection of light - somewhere towards the end of "Opticks" there's a short discussion in which he suggests that light would be deflected by gravity. His thinking, consistent with his corpuscular view of light, seems to have been along the lines suggested by @PeterDonis: zero mass makes no physical sense.
     
  16. Jun 1, 2017 #15

    haushofer

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    Zero mass in Newtonian dynamics is governed by what we call "Carrollian dynamics". It is kind of an ultrarelativistic Inonu-Wigner contraction on the Poincare algebra, the opposite of the one giving you the Galilei group.

    So zero mass gives some sense :P
     
  17. Jun 1, 2017 #16

    A.T.

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    Mathematically, this specific case of combining Newtonian Graviation with 2nd Law for a test mass of zero is a removable singularity.
     
  18. Jun 2, 2017 #17
    Thanks to everyone who responded to my query about Einstein's prediction of light's deflection passing near the Sun and Newton's prediction. I'll have to devote some time to understanding the myriad of explanations.

    Several responses mentioned Einstein's equivalence principle. I believe that this principle simply says that no experiment can distinguish between the effects of gravity and those of acceleration. How many "equivalence principles" are there?
     
  19. Jun 2, 2017 #18

    PeterDonis

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    The more precise version of this is that, within a small local region of spacetime ("small" meaning small enough that tidal gravity is not detectable), no experiment can distinguish between being accelerated in the absence of gravity at some given proper acceleration (such as 1 g), and being at rest in a gravitational field with the same proper acceleration (such as 1 g). This can be generalized to the statement that a small enough region of any spacetime (heuristically, a spacetime containing any kind of "gravitational field") cannot be distinguished by any experiment from a similarly small region of flat spacetime (i.e., a spacetime with no gravity).

    It depends on what source you read. :wink: The Wikipedia article gives a decent summary of the main ones I've seen:

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Equivalence_principle
     
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