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Einstein Was Right: Exploratorium commemorates Lick Observatory’s test of general relativity

Einstein Was Right: Exploratorium commemorates Lick Observatory’s test of general relativity

Temporary exhibition explores the Bay Area observatory’s role in proving Einstein’s theory of general relativity 100 years ago 

Photo: Positive of a plate taken with the 5-foot Einstein camera at the 1922 eclipse in Wallal, Australia. The circles indicate the locations of the stars on the plate measured to test the “Einstein effect.” © UC Regents/UCSC Special Collections.

SAN FRANCISCO (September 15, 2022) – The Exploratorium is excited to present Einstein Was Right, a temporary exhibition that highlights how Lick Observatory proved Albert Einstein’s theory of general relativity during a solar eclipse 100 years ago. The exhibition opens Friday, September 23, 2022 and runs through Sunday, November 27, 2022 in the Exploratorium’s Fisher Bay Observatory. 


“Einstein’s theory transformed science and inspired public imagination, and we’re delighted to share the story of Lick Observatory’s decade-long quest to validate his iconic theory,” said Susan Schwartzenberg, senior artist and co-director of the Climate and Environment group. “The delicate measurements that this campaign required touch on the challenges of observation, the rigor of science, and the meaning of proof — discussions that are foundational to the Exploratorium’s vision of a world where people can confidently ask questions, question answers, and understand the world around them.”  


Einstein published his theory on the curvature of space and time in 1915. He believed that starlight passing near the sun would be bent by its strong gravity, causing those stars to appear in slightly different positions, and encouraged astronomers to attempt this observation during a total solar eclipse, when it’s briefly possible to observe stars near the sun.  


Lick Observatory, located on Mount Hamilton in Santa Clara County, was among a handful of institutions worldwide to test the theory over the next several years by measuring and mapping star positions. While previous quests were foiled by cloudy skies and inconclusive data, conditions were perfect conditions during the 1922 solar eclipse in Wallal, Australia.  




Photo: One of two lenses made for the 15-foot Einstein cameras used at the 1922 eclipse in Wallal, Australia. © UC Regents.

The exhibition includes original scientific instruments, artifacts, logbooks, films, correspondence, and photographs from these expeditions, including one of the glass plate negatives from Wallal that verified the theory. Materials were curated from Lick Observatory’s Historical Collections Project, the University of California Santa Cruz’s Special Collections, and the Australian National Film and Sound Archive.

Visitors can preview the exhibition at After Dark (ages 18+) on Thursday, September 22, 2022. The special evening program features a conversation between Tony Misch, director of the Lick Observatory Historical Collection, and science historian and writer Jeffrey Crelinsten, author of Einstein’s Jury: The Race to Test Relativity


About the Exploratorium

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The Exploratorium is a portal to the astonishing scientific phenomena that animate our world and shape our actions. We create extraordinary learning experiences that ignite curiosity, upend perceptions, and inspire brave leaps forward. Since 1969, the Exploratorium’s museum in San Francisco has been home to a renowned collection of exhibits that draw together science, art, and human perception, and that have changed the way science is taught. Our award-winning programs provide a forum for the public to engage with artists, scientists, policymakers, educators, and tinkerers to explore the world around them. We celebrate diversity of thought, inspired investigation, and collaboration across all boundaries.

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