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Using Gravitational Waves to Approximate Pi

Image Credit: Igor Sokalski Getty Images

At least 3,700 years ago, Babylonian mathematicians approximated the ratio of a circle’s circumference to its diameter. They inscribed their answer, the first discovered value of pi, on a humble clay tablet: 25/8, or 3.125. Now Carl-Johan Haster, a theoretical astrophysicist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, has managed to do almost as well: in a study uploaded to the preprint server, he measured pi to be about 3.115.

In the intervening years, researchers have calculated the true value of the ratio to a modest 50 trillion decimal places with the aid of powerful computers (you probably know how it starts: 3.141592653 … and on into infinity). Haster’s approximation of it may be a couple of millennia behind in terms of accuracy, but that fact is of little relevance to his real goal: testing Einstein’s general theory of relativity, which links gravity with the dynamics of space and time.

Continue to the full article on Scientific American, “Pi in the Sky: General Relativity Passes the Ratio’s Test” by Daniel Garisto.