Sir Arthur Eddington – The Man who Proved Einstein’s General Relativity

Arthur Eddington (1882 – 1944)

On November 22, 1944, British astrophysicist and philosopher Sir Arthur Stanley Eddington passed away. He became famous for his 1919 solar eclipse expedition to Principe, where he conducted astrophysical experiments to give proof for Albert Einstein‘s seminal theory of general relativity.

Through hard work and lots of talent, Eddington earned a scholarship to Owens College, where he was able to improve his knowledge in physics. He was then tutored by the mathematician R. A. Herman and later taught mathematics himself to engineering students. His interests for the field of astronomy began in the early 1900’s, when Eddington was occupied as chief assistant to the Astronomer Royal at Greenwich. During World War I, the young astronomer kept his pacifist views and asked all scientists to think twice and to not let the war limit the scientific possibilities.

It was also during the war, when Eddington received letters concerning Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity and since he was among very few scientists able to understand the complex theory he became a great supporter of relativity. He was even able to confirm Einstein’s views on the bending of light that passed close to the Sun through observations during a solar eclipse. This caused him a great reputation and he was a well known scientists from then on.

Another milestone in Eddington’s career was his definition of the so called ‘Eddington luminosity’ of stars, which demonstrated that nearly all stars behave as ‘ideal gases’ and that the inner temperature of a star has to be millions of degrees. As a supporter of the theory of an expanding universe influenced by Edwin Hubble, he still rejected the big bang theory and preferred Einstein’s cosmological constant, a modification of his theory of general relativity.

Eddington published several books and gave a great amount of public talks, which were very popular due to his entertaining way of presenting the relatively dry and mathematical subjects. He was also active in creative writing and composed a parody of the poem ‘The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam’ concerning the solar eclipse experiment that made him famous:

Oh leave the Wise our measures to collate
One thing at least is certain, LIGHT has WEIGHT
One thing is certain, and the rest debate –
Light-rays, when near the Sun, DO NOT GO STRAIGHT” 

But Eddington is not only known for his major contributions to the field of astronomy and his entertaining scientific books. He was also a philosopher who liked to discuss his mathematical problems in a philosophical sense after his lectures. Due to his high popularity and his scientific achievements, Arthur Stanley Eddington was knighted, a Lunar crater was named after him as well as the asteroid 2761, and he received the Royal Medal of the Royal Society.

At yovisto you can learn more about Arthur Eddington’s 1919 expedition in the talk of Prof. Peter Cole about ‘Einstein, Eddington and the 1919 Eclipse Expeditions‘.

References and Further Reading:

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