Shapiro delay

time delay caused by space-time distortion near massive objects

The Shapiro time delay is a physics experiment. It is one of the four classic solar system observations or experiments which test general relativity.

Radar signals passing near a massive object take slightly longer to travel to a target and longer to return than it would if the mass of the object were not present.


The time delay effect was first noticed in 1964, by Irwin I. Shapiro. Shapiro proposed an observational test of his prediction: bounce radar beams off the surface of Venus and Mercury, and measure the round trip travel time. When the Earth, Sun, and Venus are most favorably aligned, Shapiro showed that the expected time delay, due to the presence of the Sun, of a radar signal traveling from the Earth to Venus and back, would be about 200 microseconds,[1] well within the limitations of 1960s era technology.

The first tests, performed in 1966 and 1967 using the MIT Haystack radar antenna, were successful, matching the predicted amount of time delay.[2] The experiments have been repeated many times since then, with increasing accuracy.


  1. Irwin I. Shapiro (1964). "Fourth test of general relativity". Physical Review Letters. 13: 789–791. doi:10.1103/PhysRevLett.13.789.
  2. Irwin I. Shapiro, Gordon H. Pettengill, Michael E. Ash, Melvin L. Stone, William B. Smith, Richard P. Ingalls, and Richard A. Brockelman (1968). "Fourth test of general relativity: preliminary results". Physical Review Letters. 20: 1265–1269. doi:10.1103/PhysRevLett.20.1265.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)