Everyone is excited about the solar eclipse… Including the sweet, 70-something-year-old lady with whom I shared a bus ride a few days ago on my way home. I told her I have just moved to town to start a new post at Kiite as a Data Scientist after finishing my PhD in astronomy at Western University. She got immediately excited when she heard the word astronomy and told me she is looking forward to the upcoming solar eclipse. She said she still remembers the solar eclipse which took place decades ago when she was a kid, and how her father would not let the curious kids go outside because he was (rightly) worried they would hurt their eyes by looking directly at the sun.
Eclipses are beautiful and intriguing. Ever since antiquity people have recorded events of solar eclipses, created legends around them, and experienced them with a sense of awe and wonder. Most of us nowadays learn at school that a solar eclipse happens when the moon is at a point of its orbit where it passes between the sun and earth and is aligned with the sun in a way that allows it to cover (fully or partially) its disk, thereby blocking its light from reaching us here on earth for a period of time that can last between minutes to even hours sometimes.
Not many people know, however, that in 1919 British astrophysicist Arthur Eddington and his crew took advantage of this age-old phenomenon to provide the first direct evidence for Einstein’s Theory of General Relativity (GR). In brief, Einstein’s GR claims that massive objects (like the sun or even better black holes!) can bend the fabric of spacetime around them causing even light rays to be bent when they pass by those massive objects. The more massive the object is, the more gravitational force it exerts, and the larger the deflection to light rays it causes.
To prove this, Eddington and his colleagues, took advantage of the total solar eclipse to perform a cutting edge experiment that required taking some careful painstaking measurements. What the scientist wanted to measure was the small amounts of deflection of light reaching us from stars that are seen very close to the disk of the sun. Normally, the light from the sun is too bright to allow for such small angles to be measured, but when the sunlight is blocked by the moon in the few moments of totality during the eclipse, it becomes possible to detect such small shifts in starlight. If those deflections agreed with what Einstein had predicted, they could provide a solid confirmation that Einstein’s GR, which was until then a mere mathematical model that described the continuum of spacetime, is indeed describing reality.
Today, just like that pleasant passenger who I met on the bus, my colleagues at Kiite and I were very excited to observe the partial solar eclipse at Communitech Data Hub. For us, this event was a wonderful experience connecting us to nature and a reminder that, just as scientists back in 1919 had the courage and insight to do work that created a paradigm shift in our understanding of the cosmos, we too can with our vision and commitment push the boundaries of technology and transform the way communication in business is being done.