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LAPAN to use solar eclipse to prove Einstein'€™s theory

  • Arya Dipa

    The Jakarta Post

Bandung | Thu, February 25 2016 | 08:43 am

Two researchers with the National Institute of Aeronautics and Space (LAPAN) are busy preparing instruments at their office in Bandung, West Java to observe the total solar eclipse in an effort to prove Albert Einstein'€™s general relativity theory.

The instruments are to be taken to and installed at the space observation site in Tanjungsari, Sumedang regency, some 30 kilometers east of Bandung, as part of their preparations to observe the total solar eclipse predicted to occur on March 9.

They are scheduled to leave for Ternate, North Maluku, on March 5, with two other teams from the institute to conduct research in Maba, East Halmahera regency, North Maluku.

'€œWe will test the instruments first [in Tanjungsari] before taking them to Ternate,'€ said research coordinator Farahhati Mumtahana, recently.

Farahhati said her team'€™s research would be specialized to prove that the deflection of light track around massive astronomical objects was the effect of gravitation, which would also prove Einstein'€™s theory.

'€œThis is what'€™s normally called a gravitational lens,'€ said the alumnus of the Bandung Institute of Technology.

An example of such an event was the change in the position of the backdrop stars around the solar disc.

She said the observation was to be deliberately made during the total solar eclipse because the sky would be dark enough to observe the stars behind the sun. '€œWe believe that the change in the positions of the stars is the result of a deflection of light,'€ Farahhati said.

She added that long before Einstein came up with the general relativity theory, Isaac Newton had thought of the impacts of the gravitation on the light.

The impact of the light deflection was first confirmed by Arthur Eddington in 1919 through a total solar eclipse observation on Principle Island, off the west coast of Africa.

Farahhati also said that from 1916 to 2015, there had been 70 total solar eclipses. Yet, she said, not all of them could be used for research purposes on account of various reasons, including short duration, weather, political conditions, etc.

'€œThat'€™s why the observation in Ternate is important for the acquisition of the gravitational lens data by the sun,'€ she said.

She said initial data would be collected during the observation in Ternate. '€œHopefully we will be able to take as many pictures as possible of the stars with a magnitude of less than 10.'€

The data from this telescope observation, she said, would be stored as the data of the initial positions of the stars. Six months later, a similar observation would be conducted at night on the same space objects and with the same instruments.

'€œThat way the results can be compared to see the deflection,'€ Farahhati said.

She hoped her team would be able to find the magnitude of the deflection. This, she said, could be used as a variable to measure the mass of the sun.

'€œThe biggest challenge for us is finding the focus because the resolution of the camera is too small. We have to consider this because of the limited size of the telescope that we can bring,'€ she said.

She also said that despite its complexity, astronomy was the easiest way to introduce science and technology to younger generations.

An observable natural phenomenon, she said, was something small children would not easily forget. Stars, for example, can be observed even with naked eyes.

'€œThis makes children more enthusiastic rather than thronging them with just math and physics,'€ she said.

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