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Astronomy

24.2 Spacetime and Gravity

Astronomy24.2 Spacetime and Gravity
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  1. Preface
  2. 1 Science and the Universe: A Brief Tour
    1. Introduction
    2. 1.1 The Nature of Astronomy
    3. 1.2 The Nature of Science
    4. 1.3 The Laws of Nature
    5. 1.4 Numbers in Astronomy
    6. 1.5 Consequences of Light Travel Time
    7. 1.6 A Tour of the Universe
    8. 1.7 The Universe on the Large Scale
    9. 1.8 The Universe of the Very Small
    10. 1.9 A Conclusion and a Beginning
    11. For Further Exploration
  3. 2 Observing the Sky: The Birth of Astronomy
    1. Thinking Ahead
    2. 2.1 The Sky Above
    3. 2.2 Ancient Astronomy
    4. 2.3 Astrology and Astronomy
    5. 2.4 The Birth of Modern Astronomy
    6. Key Terms
    7. Summary
    8. For Further Exploration
    9. Collaborative Group Activities
    10. Exercises
      1. Review Questions
      2. Thought Questions
      3. Figuring for Yourself
  4. 3 Orbits and Gravity
    1. Thinking Ahead
    2. 3.1 The Laws of Planetary Motion
    3. 3.2 Newton’s Great Synthesis
    4. 3.3 Newton’s Universal Law of Gravitation
    5. 3.4 Orbits in the Solar System
    6. 3.5 Motions of Satellites and Spacecraft
    7. 3.6 Gravity with More Than Two Bodies
    8. Key Terms
    9. Summary
    10. For Further Exploration
    11. Collaborative Group Activities
    12. Exercises
      1. Review Questions
      2. Thought Questions
      3. Figuring for Yourself
  5. 4 Earth, Moon, and Sky
    1. Thinking Ahead
    2. 4.1 Earth and Sky
    3. 4.2 The Seasons
    4. 4.3 Keeping Time
    5. 4.4 The Calendar
    6. 4.5 Phases and Motions of the Moon
    7. 4.6 Ocean Tides and the Moon
    8. 4.7 Eclipses of the Sun and Moon
    9. Key Terms
    10. Summary
    11. For Further Exploration
    12. Collaborative Group Activities
    13. Exercises
      1. Review Questions
      2. Thought Questions
      3. Figuring for Yourself
  6. 5 Radiation and Spectra
    1. Thinking Ahead
    2. 5.1 The Behavior of Light
    3. 5.2 The Electromagnetic Spectrum
    4. 5.3 Spectroscopy in Astronomy
    5. 5.4 The Structure of the Atom
    6. 5.5 Formation of Spectral Lines
    7. 5.6 The Doppler Effect
    8. Key Terms
    9. Summary
    10. For Further Exploration
    11. Collaborative Group Activities
    12. Exercises
      1. Review Questions
      2. Thought Questions
      3. Figuring for Yourself
  7. 6 Astronomical Instruments
    1. Thinking Ahead
    2. 6.1 Telescopes
    3. 6.2 Telescopes Today
    4. 6.3 Visible-Light Detectors and Instruments
    5. 6.4 Radio Telescopes
    6. 6.5 Observations outside Earth’s Atmosphere
    7. 6.6 The Future of Large Telescopes
    8. Key Terms
    9. Summary
    10. For Further Exploration
    11. Collaborative Group Activities
    12. Exercises
      1. Review Questions
      2. Thought Questions
      3. Figuring for Yourself
  8. 7 Other Worlds: An Introduction to the Solar System
    1. Thinking Ahead
    2. 7.1 Overview of Our Planetary System
    3. 7.2 Composition and Structure of Planets
    4. 7.3 Dating Planetary Surfaces
    5. 7.4 Origin of the Solar System
    6. Key Terms
    7. Summary
    8. For Further Exploration
    9. Collaborative Group Activities
    10. Exercises
      1. Review Questions
      2. Thought Questions
      3. Figuring for Yourself
  9. 8 Earth as a Planet
    1. Thinking Ahead
    2. 8.1 The Global Perspective
    3. 8.2 Earth’s Crust
    4. 8.3 Earth’s Atmosphere
    5. 8.4 Life, Chemical Evolution, and Climate Change
    6. 8.5 Cosmic Influences on the Evolution of Earth
    7. Key Terms
    8. Summary
    9. For Further Exploration
    10. Collaborative Group Activities
    11. Exercises
      1. Review Questions
      2. Thought Questions
      3. Figuring for Yourself
  10. 9 Cratered Worlds
    1. Thinking Ahead
    2. 9.1 General Properties of the Moon
    3. 9.2 The Lunar Surface
    4. 9.3 Impact Craters
    5. 9.4 The Origin of the Moon
    6. 9.5 Mercury
    7. Key Terms
    8. Summary
    9. For Further Exploration
    10. Collaborative Group Activities
    11. Exercises
      1. Review Questions
      2. Thought Questions
      3. Figuring for Yourself
  11. 10 Earthlike Planets: Venus and Mars
    1. Thinking Ahead
    2. 10.1 The Nearest Planets: An Overview
    3. 10.2 The Geology of Venus
    4. 10.3 The Massive Atmosphere of Venus
    5. 10.4 The Geology of Mars
    6. 10.5 Water and Life on Mars
    7. 10.6 Divergent Planetary Evolution
    8. Key Terms
    9. Summary
    10. For Further Exploration
    11. Collaborative Group Activities
    12. Exercises
      1. Review Questions
      2. Thought Questions
      3. Figuring for Yourself
  12. 11 The Giant Planets
    1. Thinking Ahead
    2. 11.1 Exploring the Outer Planets
    3. 11.2 The Giant Planets
    4. 11.3 Atmospheres of the Giant Planets
    5. Key Terms
    6. Summary
    7. For Further Exploration
    8. Collaborative Group Activities
    9. Exercises
      1. Review Questions
      2. Thought Questions
      3. Figuring for Yourself
  13. 12 Rings, Moons, and Pluto
    1. Thinking Ahead
    2. 12.1 Ring and Moon Systems Introduced
    3. 12.2 The Galilean Moons of Jupiter
    4. 12.3 Titan and Triton
    5. 12.4 Pluto and Charon
    6. 12.5 Planetary Rings
    7. Key Terms
    8. Summary
    9. For Further Exploration
    10. Collaborative Group Activities
    11. Exercises
      1. Review Questions
      2. Thought Questions
      3. Figuring for Yourself
  14. 13 Comets and Asteroids: Debris of the Solar System
    1. Thinking Ahead
    2. 13.1 Asteroids
    3. 13.2 Asteroids and Planetary Defense
    4. 13.3 The “Long-Haired” Comets
    5. 13.4 The Origin and Fate of Comets and Related Objects
    6. Key Terms
    7. Summary
    8. For Further Exploration
    9. Collaborative Group Activities
    10. Exercises
      1. Review Questions
      2. Thought Questions
      3. Figuring for Yourself
  15. 14 Cosmic Samples and the Origin of the Solar System
    1. Thinking Ahead
    2. 14.1 Meteors
    3. 14.2 Meteorites: Stones from Heaven
    4. 14.3 Formation of the Solar System
    5. 14.4 Comparison with Other Planetary Systems
    6. 14.5 Planetary Evolution
    7. Key Terms
    8. Summary
    9. For Further Exploration
    10. Collaborative Group Activities
    11. Exercises
      1. Review Questions
      2. Thought Questions
      3. Figuring for Yourself
  16. 15 The Sun: A Garden-Variety Star
    1. Thinking Ahead
    2. 15.1 The Structure and Composition of the Sun
    3. 15.2 The Solar Cycle
    4. 15.3 Solar Activity above the Photosphere
    5. 15.4 Space Weather
    6. Key Terms
    7. Summary
    8. For Further Exploration
    9. Collaborative Group Activities
    10. Exercises
      1. Review Questions
      2. Thought Questions
      3. Figuring for Yourself
  17. 16 The Sun: A Nuclear Powerhouse
    1. Thinking Ahead
    2. 16.1 Sources of Sunshine: Thermal and Gravitational Energy
    3. 16.2 Mass, Energy, and the Theory of Relativity
    4. 16.3 The Solar Interior: Theory
    5. 16.4 The Solar Interior: Observations
    6. Key Terms
    7. Summary
    8. For Further Exploration
    9. Collaborative Group Activities
    10. Exercises
      1. Review Questions
      2. Thought Questions
      3. Figuring for Yourself
  18. 17 Analyzing Starlight
    1. Thinking Ahead
    2. 17.1 The Brightness of Stars
    3. 17.2 Colors of Stars
    4. 17.3 The Spectra of Stars (and Brown Dwarfs)
    5. 17.4 Using Spectra to Measure Stellar Radius, Composition, and Motion
    6. Key Terms
    7. Summary
    8. For Further Exploration
    9. Collaborative Group Activities
    10. Exercises
      1. Review Questions
      2. Thought Questions
      3. Figuring for Yourself
  19. 18 The Stars: A Celestial Census
    1. Thinking Ahead
    2. 18.1 A Stellar Census
    3. 18.2 Measuring Stellar Masses
    4. 18.3 Diameters of Stars
    5. 18.4 The H–R Diagram
    6. Key Terms
    7. Summary
    8. For Further Exploration
    9. Collaborative Group Activities
    10. Exercises
      1. Review Questions
      2. Thought Questions
      3. Figuring for Yourself
  20. 19 Celestial Distances
    1. Thinking Ahead
    2. 19.1 Fundamental Units of Distance
    3. 19.2 Surveying the Stars
    4. 19.3 Variable Stars: One Key to Cosmic Distances
    5. 19.4 The H–R Diagram and Cosmic Distances
    6. Key Terms
    7. Summary
    8. For Further Exploration
    9. Collaborative Group Activities
    10. Exercises
      1. Review Questions
      2. Thought Questions
      3. Figuring for Yourself
  21. 20 Between the Stars: Gas and Dust in Space
    1. Thinking Ahead
    2. 20.1 The Interstellar Medium
    3. 20.2 Interstellar Gas
    4. 20.3 Cosmic Dust
    5. 20.4 Cosmic Rays
    6. 20.5 The Life Cycle of Cosmic Material
    7. 20.6 Interstellar Matter around the Sun
    8. Key Terms
    9. Summary
    10. For Further Exploration
    11. Collaborative Group Activities
    12. Exercises
      1. Review Questions
      2. Thought Questions
      3. Figuring for Yourself
  22. 21 The Birth of Stars and the Discovery of Planets outside the Solar System
    1. Thinking Ahead
    2. 21.1 Star Formation
    3. 21.2 The H–R Diagram and the Study of Stellar Evolution
    4. 21.3 Evidence That Planets Form around Other Stars
    5. 21.4 Planets beyond the Solar System: Search and Discovery
    6. 21.5 Exoplanets Everywhere: What We Are Learning
    7. 21.6 New Perspectives on Planet Formation
    8. Key Terms
    9. Summary
    10. For Further Exploration
    11. Collaborative Group Activities
    12. Exercises
      1. Review Questions
      2. Thought Questions
      3. Figuring for Yourself
  23. 22 Stars from Adolescence to Old Age
    1. Thinking Ahead
    2. 22.1 Evolution from the Main Sequence to Red Giants
    3. 22.2 Star Clusters
    4. 22.3 Checking Out the Theory
    5. 22.4 Further Evolution of Stars
    6. 22.5 The Evolution of More Massive Stars
    7. Key Terms
    8. Summary
    9. For Further Exploration
    10. Collaborative Group Activities
    11. Exercises
      1. Review Questions
      2. Thought Questions
      3. Figuring for Yourself
  24. 23 The Death of Stars
    1. Thinking Ahead
    2. 23.1 The Death of Low-Mass Stars
    3. 23.2 Evolution of Massive Stars: An Explosive Finish
    4. 23.3 Supernova Observations
    5. 23.4 Pulsars and the Discovery of Neutron Stars
    6. 23.5 The Evolution of Binary Star Systems
    7. 23.6 The Mystery of the Gamma-Ray Bursts
    8. Key Terms
    9. Summary
    10. For Further Exploration
    11. Collaborative Group Activities
    12. Exercises
      1. Review Questions
      2. Thought Questions
      3. Figuring for Yourself
  25. 24 Black Holes and Curved Spacetime
    1. Thinking Ahead
    2. 24.1 Introducing General Relativity
    3. 24.2 Spacetime and Gravity
    4. 24.3 Tests of General Relativity
    5. 24.4 Time in General Relativity
    6. 24.5 Black Holes
    7. 24.6 Evidence for Black Holes
    8. 24.7 Gravitational Wave Astronomy
    9. Key Terms
    10. Summary
    11. For Further Exploration
    12. Collaborative Group Activities
    13. Exercises
      1. Review Questions
      2. Thought Questions
      3. Figuring for Yourself
  26. 25 The Milky Way Galaxy
    1. Thinking Ahead
    2. 25.1 The Architecture of the Galaxy
    3. 25.2 Spiral Structure
    4. 25.3 The Mass of the Galaxy
    5. 25.4 The Center of the Galaxy
    6. 25.5 Stellar Populations in the Galaxy
    7. 25.6 The Formation of the Galaxy
    8. Key Terms
    9. Summary
    10. For Further Exploration
    11. Collaborative Group Activities
    12. Exercises
      1. Review Questions
      2. Thought Questions
      3. Figuring for Yourself
  27. 26 Galaxies
    1. Thinking Ahead
    2. 26.1 The Discovery of Galaxies
    3. 26.2 Types of Galaxies
    4. 26.3 Properties of Galaxies
    5. 26.4 The Extragalactic Distance Scale
    6. 26.5 The Expanding Universe
    7. Key Terms
    8. Summary
    9. For Further Exploration
    10. Collaborative Group Activities
    11. Exercises
      1. Review Questions
      2. Thought Questions
      3. Figuring for Yourself
  28. 27 Active Galaxies, Quasars, and Supermassive Black Holes
    1. Thinking Ahead
    2. 27.1 Quasars
    3. 27.2 Supermassive Black Holes: What Quasars Really Are
    4. 27.3 Quasars as Probes of Evolution in the Universe
    5. Key Terms
    6. Summary
    7. For Further Exploration
    8. Collaborative Group Activities
    9. Exercises
      1. Review Questions
      2. Thought Questions
      3. Figuring for Yourself
  29. 28 The Evolution and Distribution of Galaxies
    1. Thinking Ahead
    2. 28.1 Observations of Distant Galaxies
    3. 28.2 Galaxy Mergers and Active Galactic Nuclei
    4. 28.3 The Distribution of Galaxies in Space
    5. 28.4 The Challenge of Dark Matter
    6. 28.5 The Formation and Evolution of Galaxies and Structure in the Universe
    7. Key Terms
    8. Summary
    9. For Further Exploration
    10. Collaborative Group Activities
    11. Exercises
      1. Review Questions
      2. Thought Questions
      3. Figuring for Yourself
  30. 29 The Big Bang
    1. Thinking Ahead
    2. 29.1 The Age of the Universe
    3. 29.2 A Model of the Universe
    4. 29.3 The Beginning of the Universe
    5. 29.4 The Cosmic Microwave Background
    6. 29.5 What Is the Universe Really Made Of?
    7. 29.6 The Inflationary Universe
    8. 29.7 The Anthropic Principle
    9. Key Terms
    10. Summary
    11. For Further Exploration
    12. Collaborative Group Activities
    13. Exercises
      1. Review Questions
      2. Thought Questions
      3. Figuring for Yourself
  31. 30 Life in the Universe
    1. Thinking Ahead
    2. 30.1 The Cosmic Context for Life
    3. 30.2 Astrobiology
    4. 30.3 Searching for Life beyond Earth
    5. 30.4 The Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence
    6. Key Terms
    7. Summary
    8. For Further Exploration
    9. Collaborative Group Activities
    10. Exercises
      1. Review Questions
      2. Thought Questions
      3. Figuring for Yourself
  32. A | How to Study for an Introductory Astronomy Class
  33. B | Astronomy Websites, Images, and Apps
  34. C | Scientific Notation
  35. D | Units Used in Science
  36. E | Some Useful Constants for Astronomy
  37. F | Physical and Orbital Data for the Planets
  38. G | Selected Moons of the Planets
  39. H | Future Total Eclipses
  40. I | The Nearest Stars, Brown Dwarfs, and White Dwarfs
  41. J | The Brightest Twenty Stars
  42. K | The Chemical Elements
  43. L | The Constellations
  44. M | Star Chart and Sky Event Resources
  45. Index

Learning Objectives

By the end of this section, you will be able to:

  • Describe Einstein’s view of gravity as the warping of spacetime in the presence of massive objects
  • Understand that Newton’s concept of the gravitational force between two massive objects and Einstein’s concept of warped spacetime are different explanations for the same observed accelerations of one massive object in the presence of another massive object

Is light actually bent from its straight-line path by the mass of Earth? How can light, which has no mass, be affected by gravity? Einstein preferred to think that it is space and time that are affected by the presence of a large mass; light beams, and everything else that travels through space and time, then find their paths affected. Light always follows the shortest path—but that path may not always be straight. This idea is true for human travel on the curved surface of planet Earth, as well. Say you want to fly from Chicago to Rome. Since an airplane can’t go through the solid body of the Earth, the shortest distance is not a straight line but the arc of a great circle.

Linkages: Mass, Space, and Time

To show what Einstein’s insight really means, let’s first consider how we locate an event in space and time. For example, imagine you have to describe to worried school officials the fire that broke out in your room when your roommate tried cooking shish kebabs in the fireplace. You explain that your dorm is at 6400 College Avenue, a street that runs in the left-right direction on a map of your town; you are on the fifth floor, which tells where you are in the up-down direction; and you are the sixth room back from the elevator, which tells where you are in the forward-backward direction. Then you explain that the fire broke out at 6:23 p.m. (but was soon brought under control), which specifies the event in time. Any event in the universe, whether nearby or far away, can be pinpointed using the three dimensions of space and the one dimension of time.

Newton considered space and time to be completely independent, and that continued to be the accepted view until the beginning of the twentieth century. But Einstein showed that there is an intimate connection between space and time, and that only by considering the two together—in what we call spacetime—can we build up a correct picture of the physical world. We examine spacetime a bit more closely in the next subsection.

The gist of Einstein’s general theory is that the presence of matter curves or warps the fabric of spacetime. This curving of spacetime is identified with gravity. When something else—a beam of light, an electron, or the starship Enterprise—enters such a region of distorted spacetime, its path will be different from what it would have been in the absence of the matter. As American physicist John Wheeler summarized it: “Matter tells spacetime how to curve; spacetime tells matter how to move.”

The amount of distortion in spacetime depends on the mass of material that is involved and on how concentrated and compact it is. Terrestrial objects, such as the book you are reading, have far too little mass to introduce any significant distortion. Newton’s view of gravity is just fine for building bridges, skyscrapers, or amusement park rides. General relativity does, however, have some practical applications. The GPS (Global Positioning System) in every smartphone can tell you where you are within 5 to 10 meters only because the effects of general and special relativity on the GPS satellites in orbit around the Earth are taken into account.

Unlike a book or your roommate, stars produce measurable distortions in spacetime. A white dwarf, with its stronger surface gravity, produces more distortion just above its surface than does a red giant with the same mass. So, you see, we are eventually going to talk about collapsing stars again, but not before discussing Einstein’s ideas (and the evidence for them) in more detail.

Spacetime Examples

How can we understand the distortion of spacetime by the presence of some (significant) amount of mass? Let’s try the following analogy. You may have seen maps of New York City that squeeze the full three dimensions of this towering metropolis onto a flat sheet of paper and still have enough information so tourists will not get lost. Let’s do something similar with diagrams of spacetime.

Figure 24.7, for example, shows the progress of a motorist driving east on a stretch of road in Kansas where the countryside is absolutely flat. Since our motorist is traveling only in the east-west direction and the terrain is flat, we can ignore the other two dimensions of space. The amount of time elapsed since he left home is shown on the y-axis, and the distance traveled eastward is shown on the x-axis. From A to B he drove at a uniform speed; unfortunately, it was too fast a uniform speed and a police car spotted him. From B to C he stopped to receive his ticket and made no progress through space, only through time. From C to D he drove more slowly because the police car was behind him.

A Spacetime Diagram. In this figure the vertical axis is labeled “Time”, and goes from zero at bottom to 120 min at the top, in increments of 20 min. The horizontal axis is labeled “Distance eastward”, and goes from zero at left to 150 km on the right, in increments of 50 km. A black line is plotted in three steps depicting the progress of a car travelling eastward. The first step, between points “A” and “B”, the car moves about 120 km in 60 min. Between “B” and “C” the car is at rest for about 30 min. The car resumes its travels from “C” moving toward point “D” beyond the labeled horizontal scale.
Figure 24.7 Spacetime Diagram. This diagram shows the progress of a motorist traveling east across the flat Kansas landscape. Distance traveled is plotted along the horizontal axis. The time elapsed since the motorist left the starting point is plotted along the vertical axis.

Now let’s try illustrating the distortions of spacetime in two dimensions. In this case, we will (in our imaginations) use a rubber sheet that can stretch or warp if we put objects on it.

Let’s imagine stretching our rubber sheet taut on four posts. To complete the analogy, we need something that normally travels in a straight line (as light does). Suppose we have an extremely intelligent ant—a friend of the comic book superhero Ant-Man, perhaps—that has been trained to walk in a straight line.

We begin with just the rubber sheet and the ant, simulating empty space with no mass in it. We put the ant on one side of the sheet and it walks in a beautiful straight line over to the other side (Figure 24.8). We next put a small grain of sand on the rubber sheet. The sand does distort the sheet a tiny bit, but this is not a distortion that we or the ant can measure. If we send the ant so it goes close to, but not on top of, the sand grain, it has little trouble continuing to walk in a straight line.

Now we grab something with a little more mass—say, a small pebble. It bends or distorts the sheet just a bit around its position. If we send the ant into this region, it finds its path slightly altered by the distortion of the sheet. The distortion is not large, but if we follow the ant’s path carefully, we notice it deviating slightly from a straight line.

The effect gets more noticeable as we increase the mass of the object that we put on the sheet. Let’s say we now use a massive paperweight. Such a heavy object distorts or warps the rubber sheet very effectively, putting a good sag in it. From our point of view, we can see that the sheet near the paperweight is no longer straight.

Three-Dimensional Analogy for Spacetime. In the left-hand portion of this illustration, a “Rubber sheet” is stretched between four poles. An ant is drawn on the surface at left, with a straight red arrow drawn from the ant toward the right labeled “Ant’s path”. In the right-hand side the “Rubber sheet” now has a “Paperweight” in the middle, causing the rubber sheet to sag. The red arrow is now drawn to trace the “Ant’s path” down into and out of the sag. Due to the sag, the path on the right is much longer than the path on the left.
Figure 24.8 Three-Dimensional Analogy for Spacetime. On a flat rubber sheet, a trained ant has no trouble walking in a straight line. When a massive object creates a big depression in the sheet, the ant, which must walk where the sheet takes it, finds its path changed (warped) dramatically.

Now let’s again send the ant on a journey that takes it close to, but not on top of, the paperweight. Far away from the paperweight, the ant has no trouble doing its walk, which looks straight to us. As it nears the paperweight, however, the ant is forced down into the sag. It must then climb up the other side before it can return to walking on an undistorted part of the sheet. All this while, the ant is following the shortest path it can, but through no fault of its own (after all, ants can’t fly, so it has to stay on the sheet) this path is curved by the distortion of the sheet itself.

In the same way, according to Einstein’s theory, light always follows the shortest path through spacetime. But the mass associated with large concentrations of matter distorts spacetime, and the shortest, most direct paths are no longer straight lines, but curves.

How large does a mass have to be before we can measure a change in the path followed by light? In 1916, when Einstein first proposed his theory, no distortion had been detected at the surface of Earth (so Earth might have played the role of the grain of sand in our analogy). Something with a mass like our Sun’s was necessary to detect the effect Einstein was describing (we will discuss how this effect was measured using the Sun in the next section).

The paperweight in our analogy might be a white dwarf or a neutron star. The distortion of spacetime is greater near the surfaces of these compact, massive objects than near the surface of the Sun. And when, to return to the situation described at the beginning of the chapter, a star core with more than three times the mass of the Sun collapses forever, the distortions of spacetime very close to it can become truly mind-boggling.

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