MU struggles to repeat 100-year-old eclipse experiment

1 year 10 months 23 hours ago Friday, August 18 2017 Aug 18, 2017 Friday, August 18, 2017 7:30:00 AM CDT August 18, 2017 in Eclipse Science
By: Samantha Kummerer, KOMU 8 Reporter

COLUMBIA - Around one hundred years ago a team of astronomers confirmed Albert Einstein’s theory of general relativity using the solar eclipse.

Now, a group of University of Missouri scientists will use the upcoming eclipse to replicate the same experiment.

Astronomy professor Haojing Yan said the proximity of this eclipse gave him the idea.

“Back then, the people would have to travel long distances, this is what they called an expedition sort of, they needed to bring their instruments and they need to travel far distances to set up things there well in advance. Now we do not need to do that because we have this eclipse that is viewable right at home," he said.

Einstein’s theory says light will bend around a massive object due to gravity. Sir Isaac Newton's theory of gravity already established that light can bend, but Einstein predicted the correct amount of bending. Yan said it happens by a very small amount and only high-mass objects, like the sun, can produce a noticeable effect. 

Yan said this is what scientists now call "gravitational lensing," since it is a large object in the foreground that bends the light similar to how a foreground lens focuses light. 

To verify this theory, astronomer Sir Arthur Eddington used the 1919 solar eclipse.

Researchers needed to measure the position of the stars with and without the sun in front of them. The problem is stars are not visible when the sun is out, so the eclipse provided a unique opportunity.

“When the eclipse happens, the star’s light is blocked by the shadow, so it won’t be completely dark, but it will be dark enough so you will still be able to see those background stars, so this was exactly what they did,” Yan said.

Eddington’s experiment found the position of the stars altered in the way Einstein predicted, and thus confirmed General Relativity.

Since 1919, Yan said, he thinks two other groups attempted to replicate the experiment, with the latest taking place in 1970.

For Yan, he does not expect his experiment to make any breakthroughs but is doing it for his students and for fun. Although, Yan does hope he and his students may be able to publish a paper out of it if successful.

Even driven by fun and aided with updated technology, the mission is no easy feat. To complete the study, the group needs a telescope with a large field of view to see a good portion of the sky. To accurately measure the positions of the stars, the telescope also needs a high resolution. Unfortunately, high resolution and a large field of view contradict each other.

“In order to do the right thing we have to find a compromise,” Yan explained. “In my case, this kind of comprise is almost impossible.”

Yan and his team spent the last year using the Law Observatory telescope to conduct tests and they discovered it is not functioning well. The telescope is used primarily for education and public use and Yan said it is lacking necessary maintenance.  

“This is to my total disappointment and so my only hope now is that we can maybe use a different telescope," Yan said. 

MU Physics and Astronomy professor, Linda Godwin is attempting to salvage a 10-inch telescope but the group still has to see if it will fit the requirements of this unique experiment.

“The lesson learned here is you might think after 100 years you might be able to achieve Sir Eddington’s goal much easier, but it still requires a lot of planning, a lot of work,” Yan said.

Despite the setbacks, Yan is not giving up yet and even if the equipment fails to cooperate he says as long as he can still just see the eclipse, it will be a good thing.

Related Stories

More News

Grid
List
JEFFERSON CITY - The main runway at the Jefferson City Memorial Airport is ready for planes again, according to Public... More >>
3 hours ago Wednesday, June 19 2019 Jun 19, 2019 Wednesday, June 19, 2019 6:01:00 PM CDT June 19, 2019 in News
LAURIE - Cleanup is underway at the Westlake Aquatic Center after a 93-year-old woman crashed through the building and into... More >>
4 hours ago Wednesday, June 19 2019 Jun 19, 2019 Wednesday, June 19, 2019 5:05:00 PM CDT June 19, 2019 in News
COLUMBIA - PedNet Coalition will host a community bike ride memorial service in honor of the late Darwin Hindman on... More >>
5 hours ago Wednesday, June 19 2019 Jun 19, 2019 Wednesday, June 19, 2019 4:44:00 PM CDT June 19, 2019 in News
FULTON - Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright will lecture at Weminster College in the fall. Her presentation will... More >>
6 hours ago Wednesday, June 19 2019 Jun 19, 2019 Wednesday, June 19, 2019 3:11:00 PM CDT June 19, 2019 in News
COLUMBIA - Cooper's Landing is projected to partially reopen in time to celebrate July 4th. Flood clean up efforts are... More >>
8 hours ago Wednesday, June 19 2019 Jun 19, 2019 Wednesday, June 19, 2019 1:28:00 PM CDT June 19, 2019 in News
ST. LOUIS (AP) — A suburban St. Louis man is accused of threatening to shoot and kill "every gay person"... More >>
11 hours ago Wednesday, June 19 2019 Jun 19, 2019 Wednesday, June 19, 2019 10:45:00 AM CDT June 19, 2019 in News
BENTON, Mo. (AP) — A southeast Missouri sheriff has fired a deputy who is running against him for sheriff next... More >>
11 hours ago Wednesday, June 19 2019 Jun 19, 2019 Wednesday, June 19, 2019 10:36:14 AM CDT June 19, 2019 in News
SEDALIA, Mo. (AP) — A 29-year-old Missouri man has been sentenced in the stabbing death of a woman in Sedalia.... More >>
13 hours ago Wednesday, June 19 2019 Jun 19, 2019 Wednesday, June 19, 2019 8:17:00 AM CDT June 19, 2019 in News
ST. LOUIS (AP) — Authorities say a woman was trapped in a St. Louis jail stairwell for more than two... More >>
13 hours ago Wednesday, June 19 2019 Jun 19, 2019 Wednesday, June 19, 2019 8:04:46 AM CDT June 19, 2019 in News
BRUNSWICK - SEMA returned to Brunswick today to continue its training for flood damage assessment. KOMU spoke with multiple... More >>
22 hours ago Tuesday, June 18 2019 Jun 18, 2019 Tuesday, June 18, 2019 11:48:00 PM CDT June 18, 2019 in News
HOLTS SUMMIT - Chris Redel is the new Ward 2 Alderman for Holts Summit. The initial election took place... More >>
22 hours ago Tuesday, June 18 2019 Jun 18, 2019 Tuesday, June 18, 2019 11:26:00 PM CDT June 18, 2019 in News
JEFFERSON CITY - Police have taken one suspect into custody following a manhunt near Boonville Road and are still searching... More >>
22 hours ago Tuesday, June 18 2019 Jun 18, 2019 Tuesday, June 18, 2019 11:00:00 PM CDT June 18, 2019 in News
MID-MISSOURI - One child, 11 months old, died in Calverton Park, near St. Louis, on June 2, 2019. The temperature... More >>
23 hours ago Tuesday, June 18 2019 Jun 18, 2019 Tuesday, June 18, 2019 10:07:00 PM CDT June 18, 2019 in Weather
CAMDENTON - The cause of a house fire is under investigation after crews battled flames in Camdenton Tuesday morning. ... More >>
1 day ago Tuesday, June 18 2019 Jun 18, 2019 Tuesday, June 18, 2019 8:52:00 PM CDT June 18, 2019 in News
COLUMBIA - A cash reward has been increased for anyone with information on an injured three-month-old pit bull in St.... More >>
1 day ago Tuesday, June 18 2019 Jun 18, 2019 Tuesday, June 18, 2019 7:13:00 PM CDT June 18, 2019 in News
COLUMBIA - A research summit on disaster relief and recovery comes at a "fortuitous time," according to one of the... More >>
1 day ago Tuesday, June 18 2019 Jun 18, 2019 Tuesday, June 18, 2019 6:17:00 PM CDT June 18, 2019 in News
KANSAS CITY - Police are searching for two people after discovering graffiti on the National World War I Museum and... More >>
1 day ago Tuesday, June 18 2019 Jun 18, 2019 Tuesday, June 18, 2019 5:25:00 PM CDT June 18, 2019 in News
COLUMBIA – A major river crossing in Howard County opened Tuesday as flood waters receded. The Missouri Department of... More >>
1 day ago Tuesday, June 18 2019 Jun 18, 2019 Tuesday, June 18, 2019 4:38:00 PM CDT June 18, 2019 in News
Columbia, MO
Broken Clouds 71°
10pm 68°
11pm 67°
12am 67°
1am 67°