Total Eclipse of the Sun and Deflection of light Rays

According to Einstein’s prediction, that is to say the deflection (bending) of light rays in the gravitational field of the Sun: those stars closest to the limb of the Sun during the eclipse are found to be displaced slightly by amounts that are inversely proportional to the distance of the stellar image from the Sun. The light from a star close to the limb of the Sun is bent inward, toward the Sun, as it passes through the Sun’s gravitational field. The image of the star appears to observers on the Earth to be shifted outward and away from the Sun.

The Universe and Dr. Einstein by Barnett (with forward by Einstein)


In 1915 Einstein calculated the angle between the actual path of the starlight, the true position of the star, and the apparent path of the ray of light, the star seen during the eclipse. He obtained a result: 1.7” (seconds of arc).

However, in 1911 and 1913 he derived a different result, actually he had obtained half of this result: 0.84” (seconds of arc).


Einstein’s letter to George Ellery Hale which illustrates starlight being deflected by the gravity of the Sun. Oct. 14, 1913. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens. Here

During a total eclipse of the Sun, it is possible to take pictures of the field of stars surrounding the darkened location of the Sun, because during its occultation, the light emanating from the Sun does not interfere with visibility of fainter objects.

In the eclipse expedition of 1919 Sir Arthur Stanley Eddington and Charles Rundle Davidson went to find whether they could verify Einstein’s prediction of the deflection of starlight in the gravitational field of the Sun. Eddington and his assistant went to the island of Principe off the coast of Africa while Davidson and his assistant went to Sobral in North Brazil. In presenting their observations to the Royal Society of London in November 1919, the conclusion was that they verified Einstein’s prediction of deflection at the Sun’s limb to very good accuracy.


Sir Arthur Stanley Eddington. Source (internet, unknown). If anyone knows the source please leave a comment.

The pictures taken during the solar eclipse are compared with pictures of the same region of the heavens taken at night. An astronomer compares his photographs taken during a total eclipse of the Sun with check plates, that is to say with comparison plates of the same stars (the eclipse field) when the Sun has moved away.

In 1919 Eddington examined the check field of stars that was photographed at Oxford Observatory. It was nearly the same as that of the total eclipse field of stars, which was photographed at the small island belonging to Portugal, Principe, at the same altitude as in Oxford in order to ensure that any systematic error, due to imperfections of the telescopes or other causes, might affect both sets of plates equally. There were differences in scale though between the compared photographs. Eddington determined these differences of scale between Oxford and Principe. The primary purpose of the comparison was to check the possibility of systematic errors arising from the different conditions of observation at Oxford and Principe.

After comparing the Oxford and Principe check plates, Eddington concluded that the Oxford photographs show none of the displacements which are exhibited by the photographs of the eclipse field taken under precisely similar instrument conditions. Eddington inferred that the displacements in the latter case could only be attributed to presence of the eclipsed Sun in the field and not to systematic errors.

Eddington’s four values of deflection in Principe were: 1.94, 1.44, 1.55 and 1.67 seconds of arc. He calculated the mean of these to be: 1.65” (seconds of arc). He added corrections due to experimental errors and due to the fact that the four determinations involved only two eclipse plates. The final Principe result was: 1.61±0.30 seconds of arc. Eddington calculated the final Sobral result: 1.98±0.12 seconds of arc and concluded: “They evidently agree with Einstein’s predicted value 1.75 seconds of arc.



Photos taken at the Science Museum, London. Eddington’s original negative photo.

Final confirmation of Einstein’s prediction of the deflection of light near the Sun came from William Wallace Campbell and his assistant Robert J. Trumpler at the eclipse of September 22, 1922 in Australia. Campbell and Trumpler also compared the eclipsed plates with the photographs of the same stars taken at Tahiti four months before the eclipse. The observations with the first camera led to a stellar deflection of 1.82±0.15 seconds of arc for the light deflection at the Sun’s limb. The combined observations from the two instruments used by Campbell and Trumpler gave the value of 1.75±0.9 seconds of arc for the deflection at the Sun’s limb, which is in excellent agreement with the value predicted by Einstein’s theory.


For more photos see here.

For more information on the history of eclipse expeditions and Einstein’s general theory of relativity see my books:

General Relativity Conflict and Rivalries: Einstein’s Polemics with Physicists


Einstein’s Pathway to the Special Theory of Relativity (2nd Edition)






אודיסאת איינשטיין ליחסות הכללית Einstein’s Odyssey to General Relativity

מאמר שלי על דרכו של איינשטיין לתורת היחסות הכללית: אודיסאת איינשטיין ליחסות הכללית

סיינטיפיק אמריקן ישראל

“Einstein’s Odyssey to General Relativity”, Scientific American Israel

את המונח “אודיסאה” ליחסות הכללית טבע פרופ’ ג’ון סטצ’ל מאוניברסיטת בוסטון והוא מייצג את המסע המפרך של איינשטיין בדרכו ליחסות הכללית. ראו המאמר של סטצ’ל למטה

Odyssey to general relativity is John Stachel’s memorable phraseology. See:

Stachel, John (1979). “Einstein’s Odyssey: His Journey from Special to General Relativity”. In Einstein from B to Z, 2002.

I am sorry but this piece is in Hebrew. You can read my book General Relativity Conflict and Rivalries, my papers on Einstein and general relativity and a short summary below.


מפייסבוק: מארחים את ד”ר גלי וינשטיין לדבר על איינשטיין


My drawing of Einstein:      האיור שלי של איינשטיין

איינשטיין צעיר

And the original (I tried as hard as I could to draw a young Einstein…):       המקור


The article discusses the following topics:

1907. The Happiest thought of my life.


1907-1911. The equivalence principle and elevator experiments.


1911. Deflection of light and explaining deflection of light using an elevator thought experiment.


1911-1912 (1916). The disk thought experiment, gravitational time dilation and gravitational redshift.


1912. The disk thought experiment and non-Euclidean geometry.


1912. Einstein to Marcel Grossmann: “Grossmann, you must help me or else I’ll go crazy!”. Grossmann searched the literature, and brought the works of Bernhard Riemann, Gregorio Curbastro-Ricci, Tullio Levi-Civita and Elwin Bruno Christoffel to Einstein’s attention. With Grossmann’s help Einstein searched for gravitational field equations for the metric tensor in the Zurich Notebook.


1913-1914. The Entwurf theory. In 1913, Einstein and Michele Besso both tried to solve the new Entwurf field equations to find the perihelion advance of Mercury.

2October 1915. Einstein realizes there are problems with his 1914 Entwurf theory. November 1915. Einstein’s competition with David Hilbert.


November 1915. Four ground-breaking papers: Einstein presents the field equations of general relativity, finds the advance of the perihelion of Mercury and predicts that a ray of light passing near the Sun would undergo a deflection of amount 1.7 arc seconds.

My new book on Einstein and the history of the general theory of relativity

Here is the dust jacket of my new scholarly book on the history of general relativity, to be released on… my Birthday:

General Relativity Conflict and Rivalries: Einstein’s polemics with Physicists.


The book is illustrated by me and discusses the history of general relativity, gravitational waves, relativistic cosmology and unified field theory between 1905 and 1955:

The development of general relativity (1905-1916), “low water mark” period and several results during the “renaissance of general relativity” (1960-1980).


Conversations I have had more than a decade ago with my PhD supervisor, the late Prof. Mara Beller (from the Hebrew University in Jerusalem), comprise major parts of the preface and the general setting of the book. However, the book presents the current state of research and many new findings in history of general relativity.


My first book:

Einstein’s Pathway to the Special Theory of Relativity (April, 2015)

includes a wide variety of topics including also the early history of general relativity.


100 GTR: Uniformly Rotating Disk and the Hole Argument

The “Ehrenfest paradox“: Ehrenfest imagined a rigid cylinder set in motion from rest and rotating around its axis of symmetry. Consider an observer at rest measuring the circumference and radius of the rotating cylinder. The observer arrives at two contradictory requirements relating to the cylinder’s radius:

  1. Every point in the circumference of the cylinder moves with radial velocity ωR, and thus, the circumference of the cylinder  should appear Lorentz contracted to a smaller value than at rest, by the usual “relativistic” factor γ: 2πR‘ < 2πR.
  2. The radius R’ is always perpendicular to its motion and suffers no contraction at all; it should therefore be equal to its value R: R’ = R.

Einstein wrote to Vladimir Varićak either in 1909 or in 1910 (Febuary 28): “The rotation of the rigid body is the most interesting problem currently provided by the theory of relativity, because the only thing that causes the contradiction is the Lorentz contraction”.  CPAE 5, Doc. 197b.

Ehrenfest imagined a rigid cylinder gradually set into rotation (from rest) around its axis until it reaches a state of constant rotation.

In 1919 Einstein explained why this was impossible: (CPAE 9, Doc. 93)

“One must take into account that a rigid circular disk at rest would have to snap when set into rotation, because of the Lorentz shortening of the tangential fibers and the non-shortening of the radial ones. Similarly, a rigid disk in rotation (made by casting) would have to shatter as a result of the inverse changes in length if one attempts to bring it to the state of rest. If you take these facts fully into consideration, your paradox disappears”.

Assuming that the cylinder does not expand or contract, its radius stays the same. But measuring rods laid out along the circumference 2πR should be Lorentz-contracted to a smaller value than at rest, by the usual factor γ. This leads to the paradox that the rigid measuring rods would have to separate from one another due to Lorentz contraction; the discrepancy noted by Ehrenfest seems to suggest that a rotated Born rigid disk should shatter. According to special relativity an object cannot be spun up from a non-rotating state while maintaining Born rigidity, but once it has achieved a constant nonzero angular velocity it does maintain Born rigidity without violating special relativity, and then (as Einstein showed in 1912) a disk riding observer will measure a circumference.

Hence, in 1912, Einstein discussed what came to be known as the uniformly rotating disk thought experiment in general relativity. Thinking about Ehrenfest’s paradox and taking into consideration the principle of equivalence, Einstein considered a disk (already) in a state of uniform rotation observed from an inertial system.

We take a great number of small measuring rods (all equal to each other) and place them end-to-end across the diameter 2R and circumference 2πR of the uniformly rotating disk. From the point of view of a system at rest all the measuring rods on the circumference are subject to the Lorentz contraction. Since measuring rods aligned along the periphery and moving with it should appear contracted, more would fit around the circumference, which would thus measure greater than 2πR. An observer in the system at rest concludes that in the uniformly rotating disk the ratio of the circumference to the diameter is different from π:

circumference/diameter = 2π(Lorentz contracted by a factor…)/2R = π (Lorentz contracted by a factor….).

According to the equivalence principle the disk system is equivalent to a system at rest in which there exists a certain kind of static gravitational field. Einstein thus arrived at the conclusion that a system in a static gravitational field has non-Euclidean geometry.

Soon afterwards, from 1912 onwards, Einstein adopted the metric tensor as the mathematical respresentation of gravitation.

Indeed Einstein’s first mention of the rotating disk in print was in his paper dealing with the static gravitational fields of 1912; and after the 1912 paper, the rotating-disk thought experiment occurred in Einstein’s writings only in a 1916 review article on general relativity: “The Foundation of the General Theory of Relativity”.

He now understood that in the general theory of relativity the method of laying coordinates in the space-time continuum (in a definite manner) breaks down, and one cannot adapt coordinate systems to the four-dimensional space.


My new paper deals with Einstein’s 1912 and 1916 rotating disk problem, Einstein’s hole argument, the 1916 point coincidence argument and Mach’s principle; a combined-into-one deal (academic paper) for the readers of this blog.


Sitting: Sir Arthur Stanley Eddington and Hendrik Antoon Lorentz. Standing: Albert Einstein, Paul Ehrenfest and Willem de Sitter. September 26, 1923.

Further reading: Ehrenfest paradox

Einstein’s pathway to his General Theory of Relativity

Einstein thought that when dealing with gravity high velocities are not so important. So in 1912 he thought about gravity in terms of the principle of relativity and not in terms of the constant-speed-of-light postulate (special relativity). But then he engaged in a dispute with other scholars who claimed that he gave up the central postulate of his special theory of relativity. x

File:Max abraham.png

Max Abraham

File:Gunnar Nordström.jpg

Gunnar Nordström

Einstein’s Pathway to his Equivalence Principle 1905-1907


1912 – 1913 Static Gravitational Field Theory


1913 – 1914 “Entwurf” theory


Berlin “Entwurf” theory 1914


The Einstein-Nordström Theory


Dawn of “Entwarf theory”


1915 Relativity Theory


1916 General Theory of Relativity