If I were to tell you all the ways in which I’ve actively noticed Einstein’s Theory of Relativity changing my life, it would take relatively no time at all. I’m not well versed in physics…or anything. But I know something amazing when I hear about it, and this is it.
By focusing on predictions made within the Theory of Relativity, astronomers have discovered the plainly named Kepler-76b — nicknamed “Einstein’s planet” — which orbits a star in the Cygnus constellation, about 2,000 light-years away from us. It’s classified as a “hot Jupiter” due to its massive size; it’s 25 percent larger than Jupiter and weighs twice as much. Incidentally, I tried to give my wife a Hot Jupiter last weekend and I’m still putting make-up on the bruises.
“This is the first time that this aspect of Einstein’s theory of relativity has been used to discover a planet,” said Tel Aviv University team member Tsevi Mazeh. The team didn’t follow the usual transit method of finding planets, which involves looking for dimming patterns on stars as planets pass in front of them. Instead, they looked for effects predicted by Einstein’s Theory of Relativity.
Using data provided by NASA’s Kepler spacecraft, they searched for the “beaming” effect, which occurs when a parent star’s light brightens due to its planet pulling it ever so slightly towards Earth, and then the star dims when the planet pulls it away. The planet’s minimal gravitational pull also causes the star to stretch into an oblong shape, and more surface area can be seen when its wider side faces us. Plus, it reflects a little bit of the star’s light, which also helped in finding it.
“We are looking for very subtle effects,” said Cambridge, Massachusetts’ David Latham of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. “We needed high quality measurements of stellar brightnesses, accurate to a few parts per million.” Gotta love someone who can pluralize brightness and not have it sound like a mistake.
This method is mainly useful in finding large planets, so finding the universe’s smallest planet will never be a boast it can use. But there are loads of Earthlike planets that have already been found out there, and the hunt for them will never end. Science will never end. (Holds up applause sign.)