Hawaii astronomer's celestial discovery could test Einstein's theory of relativity

Hawaii astronomer's celestial discovery could test Einstein's theory of relativity

By Samantha Brooks
HNN Spring Intern

S0-2 is the star of this show.

And we can thank Hilo native — and up-and-coming astronomer — Devin Chu for that.

S0-2 is a pretty "special and puzzling" star, Chu says.

It's young (for a star) and formed close to a super-massive black hole.

And, Chu and his team discovered, it's not a binary star. That means S0-2 is not a system of two stars circling one another, but a singular star.

And that's important because it makes it a perfect candidate for Chu's next challenge: To test Einstein's Theory of General Relativity.

"We have been waiting 16 years for this," said Chu, who's the lead author of a newly-published study on S0-2.

"We are anxious to see how the star will behave under the black hole's violent pull. Will S0-2 follow Einstein's theory or will the star defy our current laws of physics? We will soon find out!"

For those of you who nodded off in physics, Einstein's theory predicts that light coming from a strong gravitational field gets stretched out, or "redshifted."

The team hopes to be able to take spectroscopic measurements of S0-2 this spring, when it is closest to its neighboring super-massive black hole.

Chu, a student at UCLA, said he and his team hope to witness the star being pulled at maximum gravitational strength – a point where any deviation of Einstein's theory is expected to be the greatest.

"Stars as massive as S0-2 almost always have a binary companion," study co-author Tuan Do said. "We are lucky that having no companion makes the measurements of general relativistic effects easier, but it also deepens the mystery of this star."

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