Folded rock in Namib desert (Southern Africa)
When Einstein wrote his general theory of relativity in 1915, he found a new way to describe gravity. It was not a force, as Sir Isaac Newton had supposed, but a consequence of the distortion of space and time, conceived together in his theory as ‘space-time’. Any object distorts the fabric of space-time and the bigger it is, the greater the effect.
Just as a bowling ball placed on a trampoline stretches the fabric and causes it to sag, so planets and stars warp space-time – a phenomenon known as the ‘geodetic effect’. A marble moving along the trampoline will be drawn inexorably towards the ball.
Thus the planets orbiting the Sun are not being pulled by the Sun; they are following the curved space-time deformation caused by the Sun. The reason the planets never fall into the Sun is because of the speed at which they are travelling. According to the theory, matter and energy distort space-time, curving it around themselves.
- Anushka Asthana and David Smith, The Observer -
Two-dimensional analogy of space-time distortion.