Lunchtime Photo

It’s lunchtime on Christmas Eve, but I have no Christmas-themed photos to share with you. However, I’m sure we all agree that Albert Einstein’s theory of relativity is a timeless holiday classic, and it turns out that I do have a relativity-themed picture for you. I snapped it a couple of days ago, so I got it just in the nick of time.

Eagle-eyed readers with good memories will recall that explaining relativity is one of my pastimes, but I’ve long had a pet peeve about it: namely that general relativity is routinely explained using a timeworn picture of a trampoline to describe how gravity works. I’ll spare you the long-winded reason why this annoys me (it’s here, if you’re interested), but the nutshell version is that (a) it provides a completely incorrect impression of what’s actually going on, and (b) the real explanation of what causes gravity is both easier to understand and far more interesting. However, I have come up with a timely compromise. Behold the general relativity spider web:

December 22.41376, 2018 — Irvine, California

Check it out! It’s a trampoline-shaped spider web! The reason it’s trampoline-shaped is that the spider has erected some extra web filaments that pull the center outward, thus providing the equivalent of a non-Euclidean spacetime in which the geodesic bends toward the center.

Don’t worry about what that means. It’s bafflegab. The point is this: If you want to write about general relativity and you insist on using the trampoline metaphor, you have my permission to use this photograph anytime you like. In fact, I insist on it. I further insist that you explain the warpage of spacetime using the metaphor of a gigantic, invisible, relativistic spider. Deal?

And what the hell. Here’s another photo of the spider web. It’s taken from a slightly different angle and at a slightly different time, and for some reason this tiny change converts it from a timeless black-and-white image to a surprisingly moving color rendition that evokes the inexorable motion of the spider’s prey toward the center of the web. Fascinating, no?

December 22.41403, 2018 — Irvine, California


as we head into 2020 is whether politics and media will be a billionaires’ game, or a playing field where the rest of us have a shot. That's what Mother Jones CEO Monika Bauerlein tackles in her annual December column—"Billionaires Are Not the Answer"—about the state of journalism and our plans for the year ahead.

We can't afford to let independent reporting depend on the goodwill of the superrich: Please help Mother Jones build an alternative to oligarchy that is funded by and answerable to its readers. Please join us with a tax-deductible, year-end donation so we can keep going after the big stories without fear, favor, or false equivalency.


as we head into 2020 is whether politics and media will be a billionaires’ game, or a playing field where the rest of us have a shot.

Please read our annual column about the state of journalism and Mother Jones' plans for the year ahead, and help us build an alternative to oligarchy by supporting our people-powered journalism with a year-end gift today.

We Recommend


Sign up for our newsletters

Subscribe and we'll send Mother Jones straight to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.


Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.


We have a new comment system! We are now using Coral, from Vox Media, for comments on all new articles. We'd love your feedback.