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Experiments Reveal That Deformed Rubber Sheet Is Not Like Spacetime 264

KentuckyFC writes "General relativity is mathematically challenging and yet widely appreciated by the public. This state of affairs is almost entirely the result of one the most famous analogies in science: that the warping of spacetime to produce gravity is like the deformation of a rubber sheet by a central mass. Now physicists have tested this idea theoretically and experimentally and say it doesn't hold water. It turns out that a marble rolling on deformed rubber sheet does not follow the same trajectory as a planet orbiting a star and that the marble's equations of motion lead to a strangely twisted version of Kepler's third law of planetary motion. And experiments with a real marble rolling on a spandex sheet show that the mass of the sheet itself creates a distortion that further complicates matters. Indeed, the physicists say that a rubber sheet deformed by a central mass can never produce the same motion of planet orbiting a star in spacetime. So the analogy is fundamentally flawed. Shame!"
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Experiments Reveal That Deformed Rubber Sheet Is Not Like Spacetime

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  • This is old news (Score:5, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday January 06, 2014 @08:04PM (#45883009)

    This was figured out more than 100 years ago. A rubber sheet can be mapped to a scalar theory of gravity. If you made it past the first two lectures of a class on General Relativity, you would know that Relativity is a tensor theory. That is why it is so horrendously complicated.

  • Analogy vs Model (Score:4, Informative)

    by EdmundSS ( 264957 ) on Monday January 06, 2014 @08:11PM (#45883055)
    No. A rubber sheet is a flawed *model* for the shape of spacetime; as an *analogy*, it's still reasonable...
  • Obligatory XKCD (Score:5, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday January 06, 2014 @08:20PM (#45883145)

    Obligatory XKCD []

  • Re:Um... (Score:5, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday January 06, 2014 @09:55PM (#45883767)

    If the rubber-sheet demo is done without earth's gravity it isn't a terrible analogy, but I don't think I've ever seen it show that way. It seems to always be shown as this curved surface where the EARTH's gravity causes the marbles to roll to the center.

    If it's done without the Earth's gravity then nothing happens, the ball just fucking sits there, and nothing makes a "dent" in the rubber because... there's no gravity.

    It's an analogy, not a physical model. You're supposed to ignore the presence of Earth's gravity when you look at it, and understand that the way the balls deform the surface is in some respects similar to how an object deforms space-time.

    I can't say this enough: An ANALOGY is not the same thing as a MODEL. It's not supposed to be a physically accurate representation, you should NOT expect to roll a ball across the surface and get results that match actual real-world physics. That's why we call it an ANALOGY.

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