24 Aug Tests of general relativity
At its introduction in 1915, the general theory of relativity did not have a solid empirical foundation. It was known that it correctly accounted for the “anomalous” precession of the perihelion of Mercury and on philosophical grounds it was considered satisfying that it was able to unify Newton’s law of universal gravitation with special relativity. That light appeared to bend in gravitational fields in line with the predictions of general relativity was found in 1919 but it was not until a program of precision tests was started in 1959 that the various predictions of general relativity were tested to any further degree of accuracy in the weak gravitational field limit, severely limiting possible deviations from the theory. Beginning in 1974, Hulse, Taylor and others have studied the behaviour of binary pulsars experiencing much stronger gravitational fields than those found in the Solar System. Both in the weak field limit (as in the Solar System) and with the stronger fields present in systems of binary pulsars the predictions of general relativity have been extremely well tested locally.
The very strong gravitational fields that are present close to black holes, especially those supermassive black holes which are thought to power active galactic nuclei and the more active quasars, belong to a field of intense active research. Observations of these quasars and active galactic nuclei are difficult, and interpretation of the observations is heavily dependent upon astrophysical models other than general relativity or competing fundamental theories of gravitation, but they are qualitatively consistent with the black hole concept as modelled in general relativity. As a consequence of the equivalence principle, Lorentz invariance holds locally in non-rotating, freely falling reference frames. Experiments related to Lorentz invariance and thus special relativity (that is, when gravitational effects can be neglected) are described in Tests of special relativity. In February 2016, the Advanced LIGO team announced that they had directly detected gravitational waves from a black hole merger.This discovery along with a second discovery announced in June 2016 tested general relativity in the very strong field limit, observing no deviations from theory.