Foundations of Physics

, Volume 36, Issue 8, pp 1244–1285

Aberration and the Fundamental Speed of Gravity in the Jovian Deflection Experiment


DOI: 10.1007/s10701-006-9059-7

Cite this article as:
Kopeikin, S.M. & Fomalont, E.B. Found Phys (2006) 36: 1244. doi:10.1007/s10701-006-9059-7


We describe our explicit Lorentz-invariant solution of the Einstein and null geodesic equations for the deflection experiment of 2002 September 8 when a massive moving body, Jupiter, passed within 3.7’ of a line-of-sight to a distant quasar. We develop a general relativistic framework which shows that our measurement of the retarded position of a moving light-ray deflecting body (Jupiter) by making use of the gravitational time delay of quasar’s radio wave is equivalent to comparison of the relativistic laws of the Lorentz transformation for gravity and light. Because, according to Einstein, the Lorentz transformation of gravity field variables must depend on a fundamental speed c, its measurement through the retarded position of Jupiter in the gravitational time delay allows us to study the causal nature of gravity and to set an upper limit on the speed of propagation of gravity in the near zone of the solar system as contrasted to the speed of the radio waves. In particular, the v/c term beyond of the standard Einstein’s deflection, which we measured to 20% accuracy, is associated with the aberration of the null direction of the gravity force (“aberration of gravity”) caused by the Lorentz transformation of the Christoffel symbols from the static frame of Jupiter to the moving frame of observer. General relativistic formulation of the experiment identifies the aberration of gravity with the retardation of gravity because the speed of gravitational waves in Einstein’s theory is equal to the speed of propagation of the gravity force. We discuss the misconceptions which have inhibited the acceptance of this interpretation of the experiment. We also comment on other interpretations of this experiment by Asada, Will, Samuel, Pascual–Sánchez, and Carlip and show that their “speed of light” interpretations confuse the Lorentz transformation for gravity with that for light, and the fundamental speed of gravity with the physical speed of light from the quasar. For this reason, the “speed of light” interpretations are not entirely consistent with a retarded Liénard–Wiechert solution of the Einstein equations, and do not properly incorporate how the phase of the radio waves from the quasar is perturbed by the retarded gravitational field of Jupiter. Although all of the formulations predict the same deflection to the order of v/c, our formulation shows that the underlying cause of this deflection term is associated with the aberration of gravity and not of light, and that the interpretations predict different deflections at higher orders of v/c beyond the Shapiro delay, thus, making their measurement highly desirable for deeper testing of general relativity in future astrometric experiments like Gaia, SIM, and SKA.


general relativityexperimental gravityspeed of gravityspeed of light

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, Inc. 2006

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Physics & AstronomyUniversity of Missouri-ColumbiaColumbiaUSA
  2. 2.National Radio Astronomy ObservatoryCharlottesvilleUSA