Balloons and the expansion of the Universe

Einstein’s theories at the nationwide Max Planck Day on 11 November in the Berlin British School

November 09, 2011

The Kaiser Wilhelm Society, the predecessor institution of the Max Planck Society, was founded 100 years ago. To mark this occasion, on 11 November scientists from Max Planck Institutes will visit schools throughout Germany and report on their research. Dr. Frank Hellmann from the Max Planck Institute for Gravitational Physics (Albert Einstein Institute/AEI), will, in this context, inform students at the Berlin British School about the expansion of the universe and the distribution of galaxies in space, among other things.

“Einstein discovered, early in the 20th century, that geometry is a physical entity,” says Hellmann. “His fundamental considerations, which he later turned into the equations of general relativity, are understandable even for those who aren’t physicists.” Hellmann, who also took part in science slams, relies on visualisations. “The expansion of our universe can be very nicely explained with a balloon. Points on the balloon veer away from one each other when it is inflated - just like galaxies in space. And this is how easy it is to go from a birthday decoration to the Nobel Prize in Physics, which was awarded this year for investigations about the accelerated expansion of our universe.”

What is gravity?

According to Einstein's theory, every body gravitates because it bends the space surrounding it, changing the flow of time in the process. At the same time, the movement of a body in a gravitational field is determined by how it “fits” into the warped space-time.

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