Can the anomalous precession of the orbit of Mercury be explained just with relativistic length contraction?

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    $\begingroup$ No. If it could we wouldn't need general relativity to explain it. $\endgroup$ Commented May 2, 2019 at 16:21
  • $\begingroup$ @JohnRennie That sounds like a good answer. $\endgroup$
    – G. Smith
    Commented May 2, 2019 at 16:25
  • $\begingroup$ @G.Smith possibly a bit brief for an answer :-) $\endgroup$ Commented May 2, 2019 at 16:30

1 Answer 1


No. Before Einstein came up with General Relativity, physicists tried various special-relativistic generalizations of Newtonian gravity. They didn’t work, and no one has found one since that works.

By contrast, General Relativity can explain not just the anomalous precession of Mercury, but everything else we have observed about gravity.

  • $\begingroup$ I would be interested in references to such attempts. $\endgroup$
    – my2cts
    Commented May 2, 2019 at 20:32
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    $\begingroup$ @my2cts In the section “Lorentz-invariant models (1905-1910)”, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alternatives_to_general_relativity mentions failed attempts by Poincaré, Minkowski, and Sommerfeld. $\endgroup$
    – G. Smith
    Commented May 2, 2019 at 20:38
  • $\begingroup$ Well, not "everything". There are UV (big bang/black hole singularity) and IR (cosmological constant) problems still. $\endgroup$
    – Avantgarde
    Commented May 3, 2019 at 14:09
  • $\begingroup$ @Avantgarde I said “observed”. We haven’t observed gravity’s UV regime, and a cosmological constant (but not an explanation of it) is part of GR. $\Lambda$ is in some sense more basic than $G$ because it simply is the coefficient of the zero-order-of-curvature term in the gravitational action. $\endgroup$
    – G. Smith
    Commented May 3, 2019 at 16:39
  • $\begingroup$ @G.Smith Yes, but $\Lambda$ is just one way. There are other infrared modifications of gravity too, like ghost condensation, non-local gravity, etc. $\endgroup$
    – Avantgarde
    Commented May 3, 2019 at 19:02

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