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Einstein and Beyond
MAY 2005
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Beyond the Big Bang @ National Geographic Magazine
By Marcia Bartusiak

Art by Moonrunner Design

A century later, E still equals mc2, and we're still probing the great physicist's notions of space and time.

Get a taste of what awaits you in print from this compelling excerpt.

On January 29, 1931, the world's premier physicist, Albert Einstein, and its foremost astronomer, Edwin Hubble, settled into the plush leather seats of a sleek Pierce-Arrow touring car for a visit to Mount Wilson in southern California. They were chauffeured up the long, zigzagging dirt road to the observatory complex on the summit, nearly a mile above Pasadena. Home to the largest telescope of its day, Mount Wilson was the site of Hubble's astronomical triumphs. In 1924 he had used the telescope's then colossal 100-inch (250-centimeter) mirror to confirm that our galaxy is just one of countless "island universes" inhabiting the vastness of space. Five years later, after tracking the movements of these spiraling disks, Hubble and his assistant, Milton Humason, had revealed something even more astounding: The universe is swiftly expanding, carrying the galaxies outward.

On the peak that bright day in January, the 51-year-old Einstein delighted in the telescope's instruments. Like a child at play, he scrambled about the framework, to the consternation of his hosts. Nearby was Einstein's wife, Elsa. Told that the giant reflector was used to determine the universe's shape, she reportedly replied, "Well, my husband does that on the back of an old envelope."

That wasn't just wifely pride. Years before Hubble detected cosmic expansion, Einstein had fashioned a theory, general relativity, that could explain it. In studies of the cosmos, it all goes back to Einstein.

Get the whole story in the pages of National Geographic magazine.

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