Cracking the Einstein Code

Relativity and the Birth of Black Hole Physics

Fulvio Melia,

Cracking the Einstein Code: Relativity and the Birth of Black Hole Physics
 
 

Albert Einstein’s theory of general relativity describes the effect of gravitation on the shape of space and the flow of time. But for more than four decades after its publication, the theory remained largely a curiosity for scientists; however accurate it seemed, Einstein’s mathematical code—represented by six interlocking equations—was one of the most difficult to crack in all of science. That is, until a twenty-nine-year-old Cambridge graduate solved the great riddle in 1963. Roy Kerr’s solution emerged coincidentally with the discovery of black holes that same year and provided fertile testing ground—at long last—for general relativity. Today, scientists routinely cite the Kerr solution, but even among specialists, few know the story of how Kerr cracked Einstein’s code.

Fulvio Melia here offers an eyewitness account of the events leading up to Kerr’s great discovery. Cracking the Einstein Code vividly describes how luminaries such as Karl Schwarzschild, David Hilbert, and Emmy Noether set the stage for the Kerr solution; how Kerr came to make his breakthrough; and how scientists such as Roger Penrose, Kip Thorne, and Stephen Hawking used the accomplishment to refine and expand modern astronomy and physics. Today more than 300 million supermassive black holes are suspected of anchoring their host galaxies across the cosmos, and the Kerr solution is what astronomers and astrophysicists use to describe much of their behavior.

By unmasking the history behind the search for a real world solution to Einstein’s field equations, Melia offers a first-hand account of an important but untold story. Sometimes dramatic, often exhilarating, but always attuned to the human element, Cracking the Einstein Code is ultimately a showcase of how important science gets done.



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