"White Dwarf" by NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center/Scott Wiessinger / Public Domain

Warp factor: we’ve observed a spinning star that drags the very fabric of space and time

Jan 31, 2020

By Matthew Bailes and Vivek Venkatraman Krishnan

One of the predictions of Einstein’s general theory of relativity is that any spinning body drags the very fabric of space-time in its vicinity around with it. This is known as “frame-dragging”.

In everyday life, frame-dragging is both undetectable and inconsequential, as the effect is so ridiculously tiny. Detecting the frame-dragging caused by the entire Earth’s spin requires satellites such as the US$750 million Gravity Probe B, and the detection of angular changes in gyroscopes equivalent to just one degree every 100,000 years or so.

Luckily for us, the Universe contains many naturally occurring gravitational laboratories where physicists can observe Einstein’s predictions at work in exquisite detail. Our team’s research, published today in Science, reveals evidence of frame-dragging on a much more noticeable scale, using a radio telescope and a unique pair of compact stars whizzing around each other at dizzying speeds.

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