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Gravity Probe B

Testing Einstein's Universe

Special & General Relativity Questions and Answers

How is it said that relativity is tested billions of times a year, when there are only a few accelerator labs on Earth?

Because each of these accelerators, accelerates literally trillions of particles per second to speeds approaching that of light. The interactions that occur are carefully measured to determine the particle types, charges, spins, momenta and so on. Any interactions that lead to byproducts whose properties do not make sense based on relativity, or on the expected particle types automatically trigger the electronics to 'store' the information so that physicists can carefully replay literally one interaction out of trillions each year. If any gross errors in special relativity were present, it would have been detected, especially at the electron accelerators where electrons are boosted to speeds approaching 99.999 percent the speed of light.

Return to the Special & General Relativity Questions and Answers page.

All answers are provided by Dr. Sten Odenwald (Raytheon STX) for the NASA Astronomy Cafe, part of the NASA Education and Public Outreach program.