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Rare handwritten Einstein letter with E=mc2 equation brings $1.2 million at auction

By Jeff Spry
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Besides sporting one seriously wild hair style, the German-born physicist Albert Einstein conceived a little something called the Theory of Relativity, which described a revolutionary hypothesis of how space and time were inextricably intertwined. 

This pioneering notion was expressed in Einstein's well-known E=mc2 formula, with E standing for energy, m for mass, and c2 as the speed of light squared.

Last week, an ultra rare handwritten letter where Einstein writes out his legendary equation was sold off at a special auction for a hefty hammer price of $1,243,707, according to Boston-based RR Auction.

Penned completely in German, this historic one-page letter was written by Einstein to Polish-American physicist Ludwik Silberstein. It’s dated October 26, 1946 and was the only known example of the formula written on paper kept in private hands.

 Per the folks at RR Auction, here’s the full translation:

"Your question can be answered from the E = mc2 formula, without any erudition. If E is the energy of your system consisting of the two masses, E0 the energy of the masses when they approach infinite distance, then the system's mass defect is E0 - E / c2.

“In your case, (E0 - E)pot = k m2/r. On account of the kinetic energy, however, the total energy deficit is only half as large, in accordance with the virial theorem. Therefore, if is the mass of the total system, 2m - M = 1/2 k/c2 m2/r on the first approximation, that is, if the influence of the finiteness of the radius of the masses is ignored. I am convinced that this (or a formula corrected with respect to the radius of the masses) cannot help in shedding light on atomic constants. For that one must first have a theory that contains the correct unification of gravitation and electricity.”

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According to the lot description provided by RR Auction, archivists at the Einstein Papers Project at Caltech and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem have noted that only three holograph (original handwritten letters signed by their authors) examples are known and are stored in museum collections. This fourth example that now has a new home, was revealed to the public for the first time in this exclusive auction event.

"It's an important letter from both a holographic and a physics point of view," said Bobby Livingston, Executive VP at RR Auction, in a quote provided to SYFY WIRE. "Einstein says to use the formula "without any erudition," and he's correct. The world knows E = mc2 as the most famous equation in the world."

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