This Tuesday, November 23, a Albert Einstein manuscript It contains the foundations of general relativity – the theory that revolutionized our understanding of gravity, space, and time, and is making travel off-Earth possible.
The 54-page document was written between 1913 and 1914 in Zurich, Switzerland, by the famous German physicist and his longtime collaborator, Michele Besso.
It is thanks to this Swiss engineer, noted the auction house Christie’s, that “the manuscript has reached us, almost miraculously: Einstein probably would not have bothered to preserve what might appear to him as a working document.”
Christie’s indicates that this “extremely rare” document is valued in a range of two to three million euros (2.2 million and 3.3 million dollars). “It is, without a doubt, the most precious Einstein manuscript ever put up for auction,” he added in a statement.
After his theory of special relativity, which led him to demonstrate the formula E = mc² in 1905, Einstein began to work, in 1912, on a theory of gravity: general relativity.
At that time Isaac Newton’s law of universal gravitation dominated, which applied very well on Earth but failed to explain certain phenomena in outer space. The most notorious was the wobbly orbit of the planet Mercury around the Sun.
At the beginning of 2013, Einstein and Besso began the task of deciphering that mystery through a different conception of gravity: no longer as a force, but as a deformation of space-time generated by mass.
In the manuscript, “they did the calculations, but they were based on a wrong value for the mass of the Sun,” details astrophysicist Etienne Kelin.
Proof of these mistakes are entire excerpts of crossed out calculations or pages with extensive formula corrections.
Although they achieved great advances, when they detected that the work could not explain exactly the anomaly in the orbit of Mercury, Einstein abandoned the manuscript, which remained in the hands of Michele Besso.
“As one of only two surviving working manuscripts documenting the genesis of the theory of general relativity, it is an extraordinary record of Einstein’s work and provides a fascinating insight into the mind of the greatest scientist of the 20th century.” adds.
The other known document from this crucial period in physicist research, called the “Zurich notebook” (late 1912, early 1913), is in the Einstein archives of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
Months after leaving the manuscript he made with Besso, Einstein performed the correct calculations and began to formulate the foundations of the theory of general relativity, which he finally presented in November 1915.
Since then, various observations and experiments have only proved Einstein right about how gravity works in the universe.
Thanks to his theory, today we have a fleet of satellites that precisely determine our location (GPS) and we are able to send exploration missions to other planets in the solar system without the risk that their trajectories deviate or end up lost in the emptiness of space.
Manned trips to the Moon will soon return and human expeditions to Mars and other planets will begin. In those moments, we will again remember Einstein.