I was excited to see this article yesterday on a long-planned experiment conducted in space, called “Gravity Probe B”. According to the article, the results confirm predictions made by Einstein’s theory of General Relativity. The experiment made extremely precise measurements of the Earth’s gravity well. The results comport with the idea that space-time is warped by the mass of the Earth. They also match a prediction made by Einstein’s theory that the Earth’s spin produces a swirling gravity well, with a shape analogous to that of a whirlpool drawing water into itself, in this case drawing space into itself. The space-time distortion caused by the Earth appears to move as a result of Earth’s rotation, though the rates of spin are not anywhere close to each other. The rate of spin of the gravity well is much slower. What has interested the scientists on this project in this effect is it helps explain the jets of charged particles that are generated by massive black holes in space, as the whirling distortions around them are probably more extreme, spinning much faster than here on Earth.
If you’re interested in getting into the history and the details of the theory that inspired this experiment, click on the first graphic embedded in the linked article. This will take you to another page, which also includes some video clips that provide easy to understand illustrations of what was observed. I particularly liked Kip Thorne’s “missing inch” model demonstration. He provided an easy to understand 2D model, which he transforms into a 3D model, of how they were able to show with Gravity Probe B’s instruments that the space around Earth is indeed warped.