Einstein, black holes, and his enduring legacy

Today is the anniversary of the death of one of the greatest geniuses of all time, someone who was granted a remarkable level of natural intuition into the structure and design of our universe that we are still trying to understand today in various fields of scientific endeavour.

The most influential physicist of the 20th century, Albert Einstein, was born into a Jewish family in Germany in 1879, winning the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1921 for his explanation of the photoelectric effect. He went on to develop his special and general theories of relativity, and even today, 64 years after his death on 18 April, 1955, Einstein’s work and theories continue to influence scientific research.


Just last week, the world witnessed the first actual pictures of a black hole which the Event Horizon Telescope (EHT) project unveiled, further bolstering Einstein's century-old theory of general relativity.


"Today, general relativity has passed another crucial test, this one spanning from horizons to the stars," EHT team member Avery Broderick, of the University of Waterloo and the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics in Canada, said during a news conference on April 10 at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C, Space.com reported.


General relativity describes gravity as a consequence of the warping of space-time. Massive objects create a sort of dent or well in the cosmic fabric, which passing bodies fall into because they're following curved contours (not as a result of some mysterious force at a distance, which had been the prevailing view before Einstein came along), Space.com explained.


General relativity makes specific predictions about how this warping works. The theory posits that black holes exist, and that each of these gravitational monsters has an event horizon — a point of no return beyond which nothing, not even light, can escape. Further, the event horizon should be roughly circular and of a predictable size, which depends on the black hole's mass, Space.com revealed.


That is exactly what we see in the newly unveiled EHT images, which show the silhouette of the supermassive black hole at the heart of M87, a giant elliptical galaxy that lies 55 million light-years from Earth.


According to Space.com, EHT's work "has verified Einstein's theories of gravity in this most extreme laboratory," EHT director Sheperd Doeleman, of Harvard University and the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, said during the press conference.


And so Einstein’s profound legacy endures, with his theories continuing to win Nobel Prizes for current physicists, according to the Britannica, with the following all drawing on his theories for their research and discoveries:


In 1993 a Nobel Prize was awarded to the discoverers of gravitation waves, predicted by Einstein. In 1995 a Nobel Prize was awarded to the discoverers of Bose-Einstein condensates (a new form of matter that can occur at extremely low temperatures).
Known black holes now number in the thousands. New generations of space satellites have continued to verify the cosmology of Einstein. And many leading physicists are trying to finish Einstein’s ultimate dream of a “theory of everything.”

It's not often that paradigm-shifting geniuses appear who change our perception of the universe around us, but most often themselves do not live to see the reality demonstrated of their profound theoretical predictions. 

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