Eddington and Einstein

Flicking through the latest edition of Physics World I see that the BBC and HBO are making a film about Arthur Eddington and Albert Einstein with some big star names. The part of British astrophysicist Arthur Eddington will be played by Doctor Who star David Tennant, and Andy Serkis (Gollum in Lord of the Rings) will take the role of Albert Einstein.

Eddington was an accomplished astrophysicist who had been chief assistant to the Astronomer Royal at Greenwich and was made director of the Cambridge Observatory (located a few miles from the more recent Mullard Radio Astronomy Observatory) in 1914. He carried out research into stars and the processes by which they work. Amongst his achievements he showed that radiation pressure was necessary to keep stars from collapsing under their own gravity and the Eddington Limit now appears in most undergraduate astronomy texts.

One of Eddington's other famous contributions were his observations taken on Principe during the total solar eclipse of May 1919. He (and his team) observed the positions of stars near the limb of the Sun during totality and compared them to the positions seen at other times of the year. The stars were seen to be in different positions because the light from them had been deflected whilst passing the huge mass of the Sun. All this happened in the context of World War I and there was muchnational pride at stake; would the British Newton be superseded by the

German Einstein? Although it was possible to explain half the observed deflection using Newtonian gravity, the observed deflection required Einstein's Theory of General Relativity. The announcement of those measurements, at the Royal Society, caused an international sensation at the time as one of the first observational tests of relativity.

All this exciting physics combined with the personal stories of scientists communicating across the front lines of a war and good actors should make for a good drama. Filming is already underway in Cambridge and Einstein and Eddington will air later in the year on BBC TWO. I can't wait.

Posted in astro blog by Stuart on Sunday 01st Jun 2008 (16:43 BST) | Permalink
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