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How Einstein's theory of special relativity helped find a new planet (+video)

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Instead, the team looked for a combination of three relatively small effects that wax and wane throughout a planet's orbit around a star. This delivers a different signal to a planet-hunting device like NASA's Kepler spacecraft than the eclipsing planet, or transit method, delivers, notes David Latham, an astronomer at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics and a member of the team discovering the planet.

"The transits last just a short time, just a couple of hours," Dr. Latham writes in an e-mail. But the effects the team tracked "rise and fall continuously through the entire orbital period of the planet, roughly 36 hours, so it’s not hard to distinguish these phenomena."

And it can detect planets that don't transit their stars.

The approach was conceived 10 years ago by Harvard University astrophysicist Avi Loeb and Scott Gaudi, now an assistant professor of astronomy at The Ohio State University in Columbus, who took a cue from Albert Einstein.

One prediction of Einstein's theory of special relativity is that when an object is moving at a pace close to the speed of light, any light it emits appears more intense along the object's line of motion, forming a beam. To an observer watching the object approach, the light looks brighter than it would if the object were stationary.

The effect is most pronounced in powerful astronomical events such as gamma-ray bursts, in which matter emitting the gamma rays is accelerated to 99.9 percent of the speed of light, Dr. Loeb explains.

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