Astronomers Discover Exoplanet Using Einstein's Special Theory of Relativity

Posted on May 13, 2013

Kepler 76b Einstein's Planet is about 25% bigger than Jupiter


A team of astronomers at Tel Aviv University and the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA) have announced the discovery an exoplanet using a new method that relies on Einstein's special theory of relativity. "Einstein's planet," formally known as Kepler-76b, is described as a "hot Jupiter" that orbits its star every 1.5 days. Kepler-76b has a temperature of about 3,600 degrees Fahrenheit. Its diameter is about 25% larger than Jupiter and it weighs twice as much. It orbits a type F star about 2,000 light-years from Earth in the constellation Cygnus.

The new planet finding method looks for three small effects that occur simultaneously as a planet orbits the star. Einstein's "beaming" effect causes the star to brighten as it moves toward us and dim as it moves away. Kepler-76b was identified by the BEER algorithm, which stands for relativistic BEaming, Ellipsoidal, and Reflection/emission modulations. The BEER algoritihm was developed by Professor Tsevi Mazeh and his student, Simchon Faigler, at Tel Aviv University, Israel.

David Latham of the CfA, said in a statement, "We are looking for very subtle effects. We needed high quality measurements of stellar brightnesses, accurate to a few parts per million."

Space.com reports that the new planet finding method works best for discovering large Jupiter-sized worlds and does not currently work for finding Earth-sized planets.

Image: David A. Aguilar (CfA)