Thu, 10 Jan 2013 06:52:17 GMT

Einstein''s famous equation ''E=mc2'' to be tested in space?

Washington, Jan 9 (PTI) The world''s most iconic equation, Albert Einstein''s ''E=mc2'', may be correct or not depending on where you are in space, a physicist has suggested, proposing an experiment to test the theory in outer space.

University of Arizona physics professor Andrei Lebed has stirred the physics community by proposing an experiment using a space probe carrying hydrogen atoms to test his finding that the equation ''E=mc2'' is correct in flat space, but not in curved space.

According to the Theory of General Relativity, objects curve the space around them. In the equation ''E=mc2'', E stands for energy, m for mass and c for the speed of light (squared).

Physicists have since validated Einstein''s equation in countless experiments and calculations, and many technologies including mobile phones and GPS navigation depend on it.

The key to Lebed''s argument lies in the very concept of mass itself. According to accepted paradigm, there is no difference between the mass of a moving object that can be defined in terms of its inertia, and the mass bestowed on that object by a gravitational field.

This equivalence principle between the inertial and gravitational masses, introduced in classical physics by Galileo Galilei and in modern physics by Albert Einstein, has been confirmed with a very high level of accuracy.

"But my calculations show that beyond a certain probability, there is a very small but real chance the equation breaks down for a gravitational mass," Lebed said.

If one measures the weight of quantum objects, such as a hydrogen atom, often enough, the result will be the same in the vast majority of cases, but a tiny portion of those measurements give a different reading, in apparent violation of ''E=mc2''.

This has physicists puzzled, but it could be explained if gravitational mass was not the same as inertial mass, which is a paradigm in physics.

"Most physicists disagree with this because they believe that gravitational mass exactly equals inertial mass," Lebed said in a statement.

"But my point is that gravitational mass may not be equal to inertial mass due to some quantum effects in General Relativity, which is Einstein''s theory of gravitation. To the best of my knowledge, nobody has ever proposed this before," Lebed said.

Lebed suggested sending a small spacecraft with a tank of hydrogen and a sensitive photo detector into space.

In outer space, the relationship between mass and energy is the same for the atom, but only because the flat space doesn''t permit the electron to change energy levels.

Depending on the energy level, the relationship between mass and energy is no longer fixed under the influence of a gravitational field.

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