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  Probe blasts off to test Einstein
Updated 21 April 2004, 11.39
Albert Einstein
A special satellite that will test some of the most important theories about space has blasted off in California.

Nasa's Gravity Probe B will spend a year in space, testing ideas that famous physicist Albert Einstein had about how Earth changes space and time.

On board are four ping-pong-sized balls, which are supposed to be the most perfect spheres ever made.

The mission has been planned since 1959, but technical and cash problems have stopped it getting off the ground.

Einstein invented the general theory of relativity, or theory of gravitation, which said that Earth's gravity affected space-time in space.

Fact File
Albert Einstein
Born 14 March, 1879 in Germany
Invented special theory of relativity
Most important formula was E=mc2 (energy equals mass times the velocity of light squared)
Given Nobel Prize in 1921
Died in 1955
Because of Earth's gravity and weight, it actually made it seem as if space and time was "curved" or warped, the theory said.

One way to think about space-time is as a large fishing net.

Stretched out flat, it is straight and regular. When a weight is put in it, it bends. When that weight is spinning, it also twists the net.

So, the probe will look out for this warping, which has not been measured before.

The quartz ping-pong balls in the probe are sealed in a vacuum and are actually gyroscopes which will help the scientists test the theories.

It's expected the tests will prove Einstein to be right. But if his theory turned out to be wrong, lots of things that we know about space would have to be re-thought.

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