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French Satellite Microscope May Challenge Theory of Relativity

Theory of Relativity changed the whole face of Physics and changed the way looked at gravity. It was one of the most ground-breaking works over a century ago. However, is it correct? Today there are a group of people who really want to see the Theory of Relativity proven wrong. Who are these people? Well, they belong to the discipline of quantum mechanics. Interestingly, the French Satellite Microscope (yes, that’s the name – Microscope) is all set to prove the Theory of Relativity either right or wrong.

If Microscope manages to prove that Theory of Relativity is wrong, people of quantum mechanics will be the happiest people on planet Earth. However, if that really happens, all the physics that we have learned so far will be lost. Everything has to be redone from zero. But, if Microscope manages to prove the Theory of Relativity was correct, we can definitely live with our old daily life.

So, what is Microscope and what is it doing up there in space? What is its sole purpose? Who put it up there? Let us find out!

What is this French Satellite Microscope?

You must have heard of CNES. If not, it is the French Space Agency which is known as Centre National d’Etudes Spatiales and CNES is responsible for putting Microscope up there in space. Microscope is the name given to a small satellite or a microsatellite whose sole business up there is to test whether free fall is universal or not. The total lifespan of Microscope is only 2 years. The satellite has cost the French government 130 million Euros and was sent to space using Russian Soyuz rocket from French Guiana.

Now, what the hell is this universality of free fall? We will skip the unnecessary details and give you a brief. As per the Theory of Relativity, if two objects of different material and mass are dropped in vacuum, both of them will fall exactly at the same speed. To simplify further, the Equivalence Principle of the Theory of Relativity states that if, suppose, a feather and a lead ball are dropped at the same time and allowed to fall freely in perfect vacuum, both will fall down at the same speed irrespective of their actual mass. All the physics related to gravity that we have learned till date uses this Equivalence Principle.

So, why the hell one needs to test this principle in space?

That’s because there is no such thing called perfect vacuum on Earth. There will be absolutely no perturbations whatsoever in an orbiting satellite, that are usually found on Earth. Also, objects that will be allowed to fall freely will actually be in permanent and perfect free fall. This makes sense because, Einstein’s theory was theoretical and there was absolutely no practical proof. Microscope will either offer a proof and validate the theory or simply prove that it is incomplete.

What objects did French Satellite Microscope carry?

For the purpose of testing the Equivalence Principle, the satellite carried two cylinders – a platinum-rhodium alloy cylinder and a titanium cylinder. The golden cylinder you see in the image is the titanium one and the other one is that alloy cylinder. Now, during the experiment, if the two cylinders show slightest of speed differences in free fall, it will mean that the Theory of Relativity was not correct or better said, incomplete and whatever we learned so far was not correct as well.

cylinders on french satellite microscope

According to Thibault Damour – a French physicist – if the experiment shows even slightest of deviations from Equivalence Principle, it will not necessarily mean that Einstein’s theory was completely incorrect. It will just mean that the theory of incomplete and there are other forces that actually contribute to gravity.