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Gravitoelectromagnetism: L’art pour l’art – or a subject for the classroom
Friedrich Herrmann * 1 , Michael Pohlig 2
1  Karlsruhe Institute of Technology
2  Karlsruhe Institute of Technnology


At school and university, gravity is taught essentially in the Newtonian way. Newtonian mechanics originated at a time when there were no fields, when energy did not exist as a physical quantity, and when one still had to be satisfied with the concept of actions at a distance. A theory without such shortcomings, Maxwell’s electromagnetism, came into being about 150 years later. It could have served as a model for a modern theory of gravitation. In fact, such a theory of gravitation, gravitoelectromagnetism, was proposed by Heaviside. However, it did not establish itself, because, firstly, many effects it describes are very, very small, secondly, it makes certain statements that seemed unacceptable to some researchers, and thirdly, shortly thereafter, General Relativity was born, which removed the old deficiencies and seemed to make a classical field theory of gravity superfluous. We argue that the subject of gravitoelectromagnetism has its legitimacy in teaching at school and university even now.

On the one hand, general relativity is impractical for many applications because the mathematical effort is high, and on the other hand, the theory of gravitoelectromagnetism by no means describes only tiny effects. Rather, it solves a problem that is deliberately ignored in the traditional teaching of Newtonian mechanics: To which system do we assign the so-called potential energy? Where is the “potential” energy located? We also encounter some peculiarities of gravitoelectromagnetism, the cause of which is the fact that compressive and tensile stresses within the gravitational field, are swapped against each other in comparison with the electromagnetic field.

Keywords: Gravitoelectromagnetism, mechanical stress, potential energy