The work, which dates back to 1931, had been misfiled and was “lost” until researchers Cormac O’Raifeartaigh and Brendan McCann discovered it last August while searching through a collection of Einstein’s papers put online by the Hebrew University in Jerusalem.
“I was looking through drafts, but then slowly realized it was a draft of something very different,” Dr O’Raifeartaigh told the Irish Times. “I nearly fell off my chair. It was hidden in perfect plain sight. This particular manuscript was misfiled as a draft of something else.”
He contacted the university, which confirmed the paper had been misfiled.
Prof Werner Nahm of the Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies and Prof Simon Mitton of Cambridge were drafted to help translate and analyze the paper.
The researchers submitted their report to the European Physical Journal (H) and a preprint can now be found on the online physics archive ArXiv.
In the paper, Einstein speculates that the expanding universe could remain unchanged and in a “steady state” because new matter is being continuously created from space. This concept is radically different from the physicist’s previously known models of the universe.
“It is what Einstein is attempting to do that would surprise most historians, because nobody had known this idea. It was later proposed by Fred Hoyle in 1948 and became controversial in the 1950s, the steady state model of the cosmos,” said Dr O’Raifeartaigh.
Because Einstein abandoned the work, it attracted no attention.
Dr O’Raifeartaigh said, “Einstein went through it and spotted a mistake and went through again and knew it was wrong. He then didn’t publish it.”
However, the discovery is still noteworthy because it was “very important for the history and philosophy of science,” he said.