An orbital oopsie has led to new proof of Albert Einstein’s physics prowess.
A satellite screw-up reaffirms Einstein’s theory of gravity
In 2014, two satellites intended for Europe’s Galileo network, the equivalent of the United States’ GPS network, were placed into orbit incorrectly, causing them to travel around Earth in ellipses rather than circles. That wasn’t ideal for the satellites’ originally intended navigational use, but scientists realized the wayward satellites were perfect for another purpose: testing Einstein’s theory of gravity, the general theory of relativity.
As the two misplaced satellites move in their elliptical orbits, their distance from Earth periodically increases and decreases by about 8,500 kilometers. Using the precise atomic clocks on the satellites, the scientists studied how that altitude change affected the flow of time. The clocks sped up and slowed down by tiny fractions of a second as expected, agreeing with the predictions of general relativity within a few thousandths of a percent, the teams report.