Fr.: relativité générale
The theory of → gravitation developed by Albert Einstein (1916) that describes the gravitation as the → space-time curvature caused by the presence of matter or energy. Mass creates a → gravitational field which distorts the space and changes the flow of time. In other words, mass causes a deviation of the → metric of space-time continuum from that of the "flat" space-time structure described by the → Euclidean geometry and treated in → special relativity. General relativity developed from the → principle of equivalence between gravitational and inertial forces. According to general relativity, photons follow a curved path in a gravitational field. This prediction was confirmed by the measurements of star positions near the solar limb during the total eclipse of 1919. The same effect is seen in the delay of radio signals coming from distant space probes when grazing the Sun's surface. Moreover, the space curvature caused by the Sun makes the → perihelion of Mercury's orbit advance by 43'' per century more than that predicted by Newton's theory of gravitation. The → perihelion advance can reach several degrees per year for → binary pulsar orbits. Another effect predicted by general relativity is the → gravitational reddening. This effect is verified in the → redshift of spectral lines in the solar spectrum and, even more obviously, in → white dwarfs. Other predictions of the theory include → gravitational lensing, → gravitational waves, and the invariance of Newton's → gravitational constant.