One of Albert Einstein’s greatest contributions to science was his Theory of General Relativity, formulated between 1913 and 1916. This revolutionary theory contradicted Newtonian mechanics, which up until this point, was the leading explanation for the behavior of the known universe. With Einstein’s breakthrough, he provided fundamental new understandings of time and space measurement.
General Relativity was difficult to understand and to be accepted, it was necessary that Einstein’s theory predicted or explained some observed phenomenon that the Newtonian theory could not. Something that the general public could tangibly understand. To help with this complication, English astrophysicist, Sir Arthur Eddington came up with the brilliant idea that a total solar eclipse would provide a unique opportunity to quantitatively test Einstein’s theory. How? If General Relativity was correct, the light from stars would be bent by the strong gravitational field of the Sun and appear to be out of place. This effect is known as gravitational lensing. The weight of the Sun was proposed to actually cause light, space, and time itself to bend.
For these conditions to be just right, the test required several bright stars close to the limb of the Sun during totality. Eddington and Einstein were in luck! The eclipse of May 29, 1919 offered these perfect conditions. During the epic, nearly seven-minute totality event, scientists measured the bending of light from the stars as they passed near the sun. The findings confirmed Einstein’s theory of General Relativity, and the rest is history, or rather science! From then on, society saw a rapid change and advancement for Cosmology. Physicists understood the importance in looking for hard evidence, therefore the 1919 solar eclipse was acknowledged as a triumph of science.