For live links, click to: riverhouses.org/2019-relativity 😊
One of our homeschool countries-of-the-week last week was the tiny island nation of São Tomé and Príncipe off the west coast of Africa. You probably won’t find too many people who have heard of that little country, but just one hundred years ago this week, the island of Príncipe was the site of one of the most famous scientific tests in history. Here’s a fun two-minute video that describes that test — it was produced at the time of the U.S. eclipse two years ago, which is mentioned at the end:
As the video explains, Einstein’s Theory of General Relativity, published in 1915, predicted that massive objects such as stars would actually bend rays of light as they passed by — but how could anyone test such a proposition? The solution, carried out by the great astronomer Arthur Eddington (1882–1944), was to take photographs of the stars around the sun at the moment of a solar eclipse (when they could be seen), and then compare those stars’ positions to their normal positions when their light wasn’t reaching us by passing right next to the sun. If Einstein was correct, the images of the stars would be slightly nudged out of place when they were right next to the sun.
A total solar eclipse was scheduled to pass across Africa, the South Atlantic, and South America on 29 May 1919 (one hundred years ago today), and Eddington travelled to Príncipe to photograph it. His results proved Einstein right: the images of the stars were slightly nudged out of place as a result of having passed by the massive sun on their way to us.
In honor of this scientific anniversary, why not take a few minutes to drop the names of Einstein and Eddington in your homeschool this week, and read again a fact or two about São Tomé and Príncipe. And if you’re really ambitious and want to make your own homeschool contributions to the advancement of science, why not sign up for the Einstein@Home research project on your family computer, and maybe you’ll discover something grand and wonderful yourself. 🔭
What astronomical observations have you made in your homeschool this week? 😊
❡ Explore more: If you turn to page 416 in your River Houses history encyclopedia (riverhouses.org/books) you’ll find an excellent illustrated profile of Albert Einstein’s life and work, with a timeline that includes the 1919 eclipse. Plate 95 in your atlas (both map and inset) will show you again the location of the tiny island of Príncipe.
❡ Stay in the loop: This is one of our regular Homeschool Astronomy posts. Add your name to our free weekly mailing list (riverhouses.org/newsletter) and get more great homeschool teaching ideas delivered right to your mailbox all through the year. 🗞