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

We've never been very good at being conservative.

And usually, that serves us well in doing the ambitious, hard-hitting journalism that you turn to Mother Jones for. But it also means we can't afford to come up short when it comes to scratching together the funds it takes to keep our team firing on all cylinders, and the truth is, we finished our budgeting cycle on June 30 about $100,000 short of our online goal.

This is no time to come up short. It's time to fight like hell, as our namesake would tell us to do, for a democracy where minority rule cannot impose an extreme agenda, where facts matter, and where accountability has a chance at the polls and in the press. If you value our reporting and you can right now, please help us dig out of the $100,000 hole we're starting our new budgeting cycle in with an always-needed and always-appreciated donation today.

payment methods

We've never been very good at being conservative.

And usually, that serves us well in doing the ambitious, hard-hitting journalism that you turn to Mother Jones for. But it also means we can't afford to come up short when it comes to scratching together the funds it takes to keep our team firing on all cylinders, and the truth is, we finished our budgeting cycle on June 30 about $100,000 short of our online goal.

This is no time to come up short. It's time to fight like hell, as our namesake would tell us to do, for a democracy where minority rule cannot impose an extreme agenda, where facts matter, and where accountability has a chance at the polls and in the press. If you value our reporting and you can right now, please help us dig out of the $100,000 hole we're starting our new budgeting cycle in with an always-needed and always-appreciated donation today.

payment methods

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our free newsletter

Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily to have our top stories delivered directly to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

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

Subscribe

Support our journalism

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

Donate