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New method for finding planets

New Method of Finding Planets Scores Its First Discovery

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A number of significant advancements in the search for habitable planets have been reported over the last 6 months, and with every research project conducted, we are one step closer to discovering another planet that contains life.

Detecting alien worlds is no easy feat since they are small, faint and close to their stars. There are two main techniques for finding exoplanets – radial velocity (looking for wobbling stars) and transits (looking for dimming stars). However, a team from Tel Aviv University in Israel and the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics has developed a new method that relies on Einstein’s theory of relativity and the Kepler spacecraft has just discovered its first exoplanet using this cutting-edge technique.

The new method looks for three small effects that occur simultaneously as a planet orbits the star. Firstly, Einstein's "beaming" effect causes the star to brighten as it moves toward us, tugged by the planet, and dim as it moves away. Secondly, the team looked for signs that the star was stretched into an oblong shape by gravitational tides from the orbiting planet. Finally, the scientists looked for a small effect due to starlight reflected by the planet itself.

"Each planet-hunting technique has its strengths and weaknesses. And each novel technique we add to the arsenal allows us to probe planets in new regimes," said CfA's Avi Loeb.

‘Einstein’s planet’, formally known as Kepler-76b, is a hot Jupiter-like planet that orbits its star every 1.5 days. It is located about 2,000 light-years from Earth in the constellation Cygnus.  Although the new method can't find Earth-sized worlds using current technology, it offers astronomers a unique discovery opportunity.

By April Holloway

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