How does gravity change time

physics: The end of the heaviness

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Perhaps in the distant future, inquisitive pilgrims will make a pilgrimage in droves to Seibersdorf, a place about 40 kilometers south of Vienna. And maybe Martin Tajmar will one day become as famous to science fiction fans as the legendary inventor of the warp drive who built the spaceship Enterprise into the infinite expanses of space. However, Tajmar has only one thing in common with the researcher from the television series: he too did an experiment that could revolutionize the way we move around. It looks like the apparatus in his laboratory is generating gravitational fields: artificial gravity fields that make things in their surroundings heavier or lighter. If the physics professor is right, that would be a blockbuster. Because unlike electromagnetic fields, gravitation has so far not been artificially generated, weakened or intensified. If this succeeds now, it would be the blueprint for a UFO drive: Airplanes no longer need wings to take off, satellites no longer need rockets to get into orbit - a few gravitational generators on the fuselage would be enough to make them hover weightless at the push of a button .

For Martin Tajmar, this vision would make a childhood dream come true. Possible techniques to change gravity are the hobbyhorse of the high-flyer. He did his doctorate at the age of 24, is now in his early 30s and heads the Space Systems division at the Austrian research center Seibersdorf. The heart of his perhaps groundbreaking experiment is vibration-damped in a chest-high sandpit: a cooling container reminiscent of a milk can. Martin Tajmar pulls a spindle-shaped insert out of the cryo jug and points to a ring wrapped in gold foil the size of a bottomless ashtray. "That's the famous niobium," he says. Vapors of liquid helium cool the ring in the apparatus to minus 269 degrees Celsius. Cold enough so that the electrons can whiz through the superconducting metal without resistance. A compressed air motor sets the superconductor in rotation. The frozen gyroscope accelerates to 6,500 revolutions per minute in seconds - and distracts ultra-precise gyroscopes in its vicinity a tad off course. With every acceleration of the niobium ring, the sensitive laser gyroscopes show a deflection. This is mysterious because the sensors cannot move at all. They hang on sturdy steel struts that are screwed to the ceiling. "It is impossible for the rotating superconductor to mechanically transmit any force," explains Tajmar. What then robs the gyro compasses of orientation?

The effect is trillion times as strong as Einstein allows

Martin Tajmar suspects that the superconducting niobium ring is a kind of space-time whisk: a machine that pulls the four-dimensional tissue of space and time with it and twists it - like a dough hook in a mixer. According to the theory of relativity, such a space-time vortex creates a local gravity field. The phenomenon is called the Lense Thirring Effect or Gravitomagnetism. According to Albert Einstein, however, the resulting gravitational fields are immeasurably tiny and irrelevant for practical applications. The rotating globe, for example, twists the surrounding space so minimally that a satellite in orbit only deviates from course a millionth of a millimeter per year. Most physicists consider trying to influence gravity to be a waste of time. But the effect measured in Seibersdorf is tens of trillion times as strong as Einstein allows.

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Because it borders on witchcraft, Martin Tajmar initially did not trust his results himself. For years it has dampened vibrations, eliminated temperature fluctuations and shielded electromagnetic interference fields. The measured values ​​remained unchanged. After more than 250 test runs, his team presented the results in March 2006 at a conference of the European space agency Esa. The professional world remained skeptical, and the institute management advised the researchers not to receive journalists for the time being. Maybe everything turns out to be a measurement error after all? "Until other groups have confirmed the effect, caution and euphoria should be in balance," emphasizes Tajmar. “I don't insist now that I created a gravitational field. I just think: it's the most likely explanation. "

Gravitation at the push of a button? Many researchers are already desperate about this vision - including the US space agency Nasa, the aircraft manufacturer Boeing and the British arms company BAE Systems. All three have invested considerable sums over the past ten years to test the claims of the Russian materials researcher Yevgienij Podkletnow, who made an exciting discovery in Tampere, Finland in 1992. During the characterization of a ceramic high-temperature superconductor, the doctor of chemistry noticed that the pipe smoke of a colleague rose remarkably quickly to the ceiling above the rotating ceramic disk. Podkletnow examined the phenomenon more closely and came to the conclusion: The rotating superconductor shields the earth's gravitational field. A ceramic disc made of yttrium-barium-copper oxide rotating at 5000 revolutions reduced the weight of objects hanging over it by two percent, wrote Podkletnow in 1992 Physica C, a specialist magazine for superconductors.

At a distance from the questionable Russian

At first nobody took the results seriously because they contradicted all common theories. A duck for the Russian secret service, many thought. An article in the UK Sunday Telegraph But in 1996 it sparked a real hype. The end of the gravity seemed near. Laboratories around the world began to repeat the Podkletnow experiment - mostly in silence, after all it was unclear whether the outsider had really measured a gravitational effect.

The vortex was not conducive to Podkletnow's career. His contract was not renewed, he went into hiding and got by as a poorly paid professor in Moscow. Although the man likes to compare himself to Giordano Bruno for this reason - he doesn't seem like a persecuted person. More like a press spokesman on his own behalf: pinstripe trousers, white shirt, dark hair neatly parted. "In our laboratory in Moscow we are now achieving a weight reduction of nine percent," he explains at a meeting in Tampere, where he now lives and works again. In order to convince investors, he founded a company whose advertising film suggests: With enough money and ten years of development, everything can be made to fly with superconducting gyroscopes.