Science 4 min read

Meet Arthur Eddington, the Genius Behind Einstein

A century ago, Einstein posited his theory of general relativity, and, frankly, not many people took notice. That is, nobody cared except for one man: Arthur Eddington, the genius behind Einstein.

Arthur Eddington was the first scientist to prove Einstein's theory of relativity | www.thefamouspeople.com

Arthur Eddington was the first scientist to prove Einstein's theory of relativity | www.thefamouspeople.com

Albert Einstein is considered an icon of genius due to his many contributions to science, particularly physics. His notable works on relativity and quantum mechanics have become the foundations of modern-day physics.

But, like all famous people, Einstein was once just a struggling physicist whose ideas were contained within the blockades built by the German Empire, virtually hidden from the rest of the world.

The Great War made Germany, and all its citizens, an enemy to its neighboring European nations. This further isolated Einstein, who was born and raised in an area in Germany, now known as Baden-Württemberg.

German nationalism also left the socialist Einstein under heavy surveillance due to his political views. He was both physically and mentally trapped within the walls of Berlin, hopeless and starving.

By then, Einstein had already finished his work on the theory of general relativity, which suggests that massive objects can distort space-time. Einstein’s theory contradicted those of another genius and equally famous scientist, the English mathematician Isaac Newton.

The Fight for Science

Einstein’s theory of relativity eventually reached Britain through his Dutch friend, physicist Willem de Sitter. De Sitter sent out letters and papers about the relativity theory to physicists, making it Einstein’s official introduction to the international academic community.

Sir Arthur Eddington, British astronomer
A portrait of British astronomer Sir Arthur Eddington | Science Photo Library

The British scientists were not impressed with Einstein’s work. They resented his idea for two primary reasons: Einstein was viewed as a German enemy and was considered a fool for challenging the ideas of Newton.

British physicists found Einstein’s work not worthy of their time. All except one man, the Cambridge professor and secretary of the Royal Astronomical SocietyArthur Eddington.

Eddington was among the first to receive De Sitter’s letters and among the few British scientists that time who saw Einstein’s work for what it was.

After reading Einstein’s paper, Eddington embarked on a journey to help the German physicist revolutionize the foundations of physics and reinstill internationalism in the heart of the scientific community.

It was a rough road for the British astrophysicist since his colleagues had refused to acknowledge Einstein’s work, especially when the war continued to cripple many allied nations of England.

Eddington understood the complicated mathematics behind Einstein’s theory of relativity. He believed in it. However, he was left with no choice but to prove it and oppose Newton’s universal law of gravity.

Making Einstein an Icon of Genius

Another member of the Royal Astronomical Society, Frank Dyson, was the one who came up with the perfect experiment to end the debate over Einstein’s theory of relativity.

Dyson realized that the solar eclipse of 1919 provided the perfect opportunity to prove Einstein’s theory. It would be dark due to the eclipse, making it easier to observe if the light coming from the Hyades star cluster that would pass through the sun’s gravitational field.

Frank Dyson (left) and Arthur Eddington | Image courtesy of AIP Emilio SegrË Visual Archives, W. F. Meggers Collection

Eddington led the experiment. He measured the actual positions of the stars on January and February 1919. Then, on May 29, 1919, he headed to the remote Island of Príncipe and measured the positions of the stars in the Hyades cluster during the eclipse.

The British scientist also formed another team of astronomers and sent them to Sobral, Brazil to take separate measurements during the eclipse in case the weather on the island was unfavorable.

Both teams took several pictures during the six-minute long eclipse, returned to England, and began the complex process of analyzing the images for any shift in the stars.

Picture of the May 29, 1919 solar eclipse taken by Arthur Eddington
Picture of the May 29, 1919 solar eclipse taken by Arthur Eddington that proved Einstein’s theory of relativity | Wikimedia Commons

On November 6, 1919, six months after that fateful day in the Island of Príncipe, Eddington confirmed Einstein’s theory of general relativity in front of the international scientific community.

It was a glorious achievement for Eddington.

The announcement made Einstein an academic star overnight. Over the years, he received numerous accolades for his scientific contributions, making him a true icon of genius.

However, things would have turned out differently for Einstein if not for the support of that one man who believed in him and went against all the odds to prove his work 100 years ago.

Cheers to you, Sir Arthur Eddington!

Read More: Scientists Prove Einstein’s General Relativity Theory Right Again

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Rechelle Ann Fuertes

Rechelle is an SEO content producer, technical writer, researcher, social media manager, and visual artist. She enjoys traveling and spending time anywhere near the sea with family and friends.

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