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Lasers from the two Keck Telescopes propagated in the direction of the Galactic center

Hawaii’s Keck telescopes pierce the sky with lasers that help to correct for atmospheric blurring. A new analysis of data from Keck and other observatories lends credence to general relativity. Credit: Ethan Tweedie

Astronomy and astrophysics

Supermassive black hole puts Einstein’s theory to the test

Decades of data from the Milky Way’s black hole bear out predictions of general relativity.

Even in the most extreme environments in our galaxy, light behaves as predicted by Albert Einstein’s general theory of relativity, a decades-long study suggests.

Einstein’s theory says that light travelling out of a strong gravitational field loses energy and stretches to a longer, redder wavelength — an effect known as gravitational redshift. The first observations of this phenomenon around a black hole were made in 2018 by the GRAVITY collaboration during a study of the S-02 star, which orbits the black hole at the centre of the Milky Way.

Now Tuan Do at the University of California, Los Angeles, and his colleagues have independently confirmed GRAVITY’s finding with measurements that they say are more robust.

The team used the Keck telescopes in Hawaii and other instruments to measure S-02’s position and velocity over 24 years. The researchers analysed these data to precisely trace the star’s 16-year orbit around the black hole. They then combined these movement data with observations of the star’s closest approach to the black hole, in 2018, and detected a redshift that closely matches the predictions of general relativity.

More Research Highlights...

Ember and thick smoke from bushfires reach Braemar Bay in New South Wales

Vast bush fires that swept across Australia at the end of 2019 and the start of 2020 filled the skies with enough smoke to warm a portion of the atmosphere. Credit: Saeed Khan/AFP/Getty

Atmospheric science

Smoke from Australian fires turned up the heat in the southern sky

The catastrophic wildfires of late 2019 and early 2020 triggered a lingering temperature rise in a section of Earth’s lower atmosphere.
Visible and infrared images of the device in fully discharged and charged states

A display screen in its uncharged (top left) and charged (top right) state in visible light. The screen reflects one range of infrared wavelengths when uncharged (bottom left) and another range when charged (bottom right). Credit: M. S. Ergoktas et al./Nature Photon.

Optics and photonics

One screen, three images — some invisible in ordinary light

A graphene-based device can display several images simultaneously using a range of wavelengths.
Woman harvesting teff, Ethiopia

A farmer in Ethiopia harvests teff, a cereal. Small farms tend to have more-diverse landscapes than do sprawling industrial operations. Credit: Andia/Universal Images Group/Getty

Environmental sciences

Small farms outdo big ones on biodiversity — and crop yields

Large-scale farms account for most of the global food supply, but smallholdings protect species and are just as profitable.
Diagram of the nuclear composition and electron configuration of an atom of xenon-132.

A xenon atom’s electrons (grey circles; illustration) have been observed and even manipulated as they shifted their position. Credit: Carlos Clarivan/Science Photo Library

Atomic and molecular physics

An atom shuffles its electrons at ultrahigh speed — and is caught in the act

Scientists capture the movement of electrons in a xenon atom, a phenomenon that lasts for a fraction of one-billionth of a second.
A canal running alongside banks of earth.

An irrigation canal in the dry and intensively farmed San Joaquin Valley of California. Solar panels over such canals are more efficient than those on dry land. Credit: Citizens of the Planet/Education Images/Universal Images Group/Getty

Renewable energy

Solar panels that throw shade on canals are an environmental win–win

Placing solar arrays over canals would prevent water loss and improve panels’ energy harvest.
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