“The fact that gravitational damping is measured at all is a strong indication that the propagation speed of gravity is not infinite.  If the calculational framework of general relativity is accepted, the damping can be used to calculate the speed, and the actual measurement confirms that the speed of gravity is equal to the speed of light to within 1%.” -Steve Carlip

According to General Relativity, the speed of gravity must be equal to the speed of light. Since gravitational radiation is massless, it therefore must propagate at c, or the speed of light in a vacuum. But given that the Earth orbits the Sun, if it were attracted to the Sun’s position some 8 minutes ago instead of its present position, the planetary orbits would disagree with what we observe!

Image credit: David Champion, Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy.

Image credit: David Champion, Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy.

What, then, is the resolution to this? It turns out that in relativity itself, what we experience as gravitation is also dependent on both speed and changes in the gravitational field, both of which play a role. From observations of binary pulsars, a gravitationally lensed quasar and, most recently, direct gravitational waves themselves, we can constrain the speed of gravity to be very close to the speed of light, with remarkable precision.

The quasar QSO J0842+1835, whose path was gravitationally altered by Jupiter in 2002, allowing an indirect confirmation that the speed of gravity equals the speed of light. Image credit: Fomalont et al. (2000), ApJS 131, 95-183, via http://www.jive.nl/svlbi/vlbapls/J0842+1835.htm.

The quasar QSO J0842+1835, whose path was gravitationally altered by Jupiter in 2002, allowing an indirect confirmation that the speed of gravity equals the speed of light. Image credit: Fomalont et al. (2000), ApJS 131, 95-183, via http://www.jive.nl/svlbi/vlbapls/J0842+1835.htm.

Come get the full story, only over on Forbes!

Comments

  1. #1 See Noevo
    April 28, 2016

    Whew!
    Must have been a slow news day in science.

    Makes me think of that quote…
    “… Now, however, science and especially science bureaucracy is a career, and one amenable to social climbing. Careers attract careerists, in Feyerabend’s words: “devoid of ideas, full of fear, intent on producing some paltry result so that they can add to the flood of inane papers that now constitutes ‘scientific progress’ in many areas.”

  2. #2 PJ
    Perth, west Oz
    April 28, 2016

    Aaaah, the joys of learning stuff.
    🙂

  3. #3 Li Yifan
    China
    April 29, 2016

    Very interesting.
    Thank you for such a good article.

  4. #4 Ragtag Media
    United States
    April 29, 2016

    Thanks Ethan for this in depth article. I … I.. have to process it because … Just because..

  5. #5 Veri Tay
    May 1, 2016

    Lol, gravity is instant, really all of modern so-called science is a bunch of lies. Primary light travels instantly – we see the universe in real-time. Gravity is a push, not a pull, black holes do not exist, there was no big bang. Just sayin’

  6. #6 dean
    United States
    May 1, 2016

    Veri Tay, the only thing you said that is true, given our current state of understanding, is the final two word sentence.

  7. #7 Daydream Believer
    Florida
    May 1, 2016

    The greatest discoveries in science will always be made by those who are made happy only from achieving knowledge, not achieving power/money.

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