'Einstein's Planet': New Alien World Revealed by Relativity

Clara Moskowitz

This artist's concept shows the huge, scorching-hot "Einstein's planet," formally known as Kepler-76b, orbiting its host star, which has been tidally distorted into a slightfootball shape (exaggerated here for effect). The planet was detected when astronomers spotted brightness changes in the star induced by the planet due to relativistic effects.
CREDIT: David A. Aguilar (CfA) 

Einstein's special relativity has proven more useful than ever, as scientists have now used it to discover an alien planet around another star.

The new-found world — nicknamed "Einstein's planet" by the astronomers who discovered it — is the latest of more than 800 planets known to exist beyond our solar system, and the first to be found through this method.

The planet, officially known as Kepler-76b, is 25 percent larger than Jupiter and weighs about twice as much, putting it in a class known as "hot Jupiters." The world orbits a star located about 2,000 light-years from Earth in the constellation Cygnus.

The researchers capitalized on subtle effects predicted by Albert Einstein's special theory of relativity to find the planet. The first is called the "beaming" effect, and occurs when light from the parent star brightens as its planet tugs it a nudge closer to Earth, and dims as the planet pulls it away. Relativistic effects cause light particles, called photons, to pile up and become focused in the direction of the star's motion.

"This is the first time that this aspect of Einstein's theory of relativity has been used to discover a planet," research team member Tsevi Mazeh of Tel Aviv University in Israel said in a statement.

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