Astronomical Tales

How did a patent clerk develop the Theory of Relativity?

While working as a patent clerk, Einstein wrote a series of papers that defined him as world-class scientist.

These papers, all written while he was still a Patent Clerk 2nd Class, are remarkable for 2 reasons:

1) They were written without the intellectual and psychological back-up of living in an academic environment. Remember that Isaac Newton did the same thing with his gravitational laws, written while hiding out in the English countryside from the bubonic plague.

2) They are radical ideas, concepts, and equations that challenged the Newtonian laws of physics.

For example, Einstein (rightly) proposed that the speed of light was always constant. This means that if a beam of light is traveling at 186,000 miles per second and I am behind it in a spaceship traveling at 1/2 that speed, the beam of light will still be receding from me in the spaceship at 186,000 miles per second!

Why didn't Einstein receive a Nobel Prize for his ground-breaking Theory of Relativity?
the answer

But Einstein didn't stop there. He also postulated that mass and energy are equivalent and interchangeable and what makes them so is the speed of light. What a concept! Imagine taking anything solid (in other words anything that has mass), accelerate it to the speed of light, and there it turns into pure energy.

This also means that the gravity of a large celestial body would bend light since light is nothing but accelerated mass. The way to test this would be to see if during a total eclipse of the sun the position of a star near the sun would appear to have moved, because the star's light rays were bent by the sun's gravitation.

When British eclipse expeditions in 1919 confirmed this prediction, Einstein was idolized by the popular press.

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