Einstein's letter with iconic equation auctioned for $1.2 million
A letter penned by world-famous physicist Albert Einstein containing one of his most famous equations E=mc^2 sold at an auction for over $1.2 million. The equation is of significance in applied physics and the letter is one of only four known examples of the equation in Einstein's handwriting to exist. It's also the only one known to exist in private hands. Here's more.
The famous scientific equation was first seen in Einstein's scientific paper published in 1905. The equation explains the relationship between energy (E) and mass (m) when a body travels at the speed of light (c). One of the key takeaways of the equation was how the concept of time was not absolute, which is why the equation is called Einstein's mass-energy equivalence.
Archivists at the Einstein Papers Project at the California Institute of Technology and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem (where Einstein's papers reside) know of only four examples of the equation written by Einstein's own hand. The letter went under the hammer at Boston-based auctioneer RR Auction who said that this fourth example was in private hands and became public knowledge only recently.
Interestingly, Einstein's letter was up for auction from May 13 until May 20. It contained a dated acknowledgment of receipt, too. The letter's rarity reportedly set off a five-party bidding war. However, once the value reached around $700,000, it became a two-sided contest.
The auction house expected the letter to sell for around $400,000 but it sold for a whopping $1.2 million. The auctioneer said that "it's an important letter from both a holographic and a physics point of view." The one-page letter written in German was dated October 26, 1946, and was addressed to Polish-American physicist Ludwik Silberstein. The physicist had challenged some of Einstein's theories.
Silberstein challenged some of Einstein's theories. According to RR Auction, the valuable letter was written on a Princeton University letterhead. A translation of a part of the letter's text reads: "Your question can be answered from the E=mc^2 formula, without any erudition." The letter was sold from Silberstein's personal archives by his descendants. RR identified the buyer as an anonymous document collector.
Silberstein initially supported Einstein's theory of relativity, but later he opposed some aspects of Einstein's General Relativity theory at the cost of his popularity among peers. Silberstein's cosmological studies that attempted to establish velocity-distance relationships to determine the curvature of the universe were also marred by wrong insights and ignorance of astronomical facts. His letters prompted Einstein to explain himself, sometimes revealing astonishing foresight.
The recently-auctioned letter is a prime example of Einstein explaining his equation to Silberstein. Excerpts from the letter's translation reveal that Einstein was convinced that the mass-energy equivalence cannot serve Silberstein's purpose even if the radius of the masses (m) is considered. In the letter, Einstein said that one would need an equation that relates gravitation and electricity, probably for Silberstein's cosmological studies.