Science & Technology

Draft of Einstein’s theory of general relativity sold for 11 mn euros

Paris, Nov 23 (EFE).- A working draft of Albert Einstein’s manuscript on the theory of general relativity was sold at auction in Paris on Tuesday for a record 11.6 million euros (about $13.1 million).

The 54-page manuscript belonging to the German physicist and his friend, Swiss engineer Michele Besso, is “exceptional” given that normally Einstein destroyed the documents and notes he created while working on his theories, the books and manuscripts expert for Christie’s auction house, Adrien Legendre, told EFE.

The document, initially valued at between 2-3 million euros, is the “only surviving work detailing the genesis of general relativity,” aside from another manuscript at the Albert Einstein Archives at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem.

As such, it provides a look into a “crucial phase” in the development of the theory of general relativity and is the “most valuable” Einstein manuscript ever offered at auction, Christie’s and the Aguttes auction houses, which conducted the sale, said on their Web sites.

Einstein and Besso worked on the theory to try and explain an anomaly in the orbit of the planet Mercury that had puzzled scientists for centuries. Although they worked together on trying to solve the problem, they were unable to arrive at a solution.

The manuscript contains 26 pages in Einstein’s handwriting, including many calculations, 25 pages in Besso’s hand and three pages on which both men made notations, and it is “one of the few testimonies that we have of this scientific process on the theory of general relativity,” Legendre said.

After several failed attempts to crack the puzzle – the auction houses said that the men “made a couple of mistakes” in their calculations – Einstein abandoned the project in 1913 and Besso kept these documents in his own files until his death in 1935.

The auction houses said that if Besso had not kept the notes, Einstein probably would not have bothered to keep what he saw as merely a working document that had not produced any results.

In September 1915, however, Einstein focused in on the problem again and refined his calculations, and late that year he published a series of articles in which he showed that his theory of general relativity could explain the anomaly in Mercury’s orbit.

He developed his theory to explain the gravitational effect of large objects in space that nowadays is the basis of modern cosmology.

Christie’s had auctioned this same manuscript 20 years ago at its facilities in New York and the person who acquired it decided to put it up for sale again, Legendre said, adding that he thought it was “a good time” to sell it, given that the market for works such as this has increased over the past couple of decades.

Einstein was awarded the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1921 and died in the United States in 1955.

EFE jmc/mgr/icn/bp

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