By Geoffrey Mohan
These days, it’s not just finding an exoplanet. It’s how you find that Earth-like body.
Scientists using sophisticated telescopes and arrays can detect a planet revolving around a distant star by looking at radial velocity of the star (a faint wobble) or a “transit” of that planet across the star (a faint dimming).
But no one has ever found one via “induced relativistic beaming of light” from the host star.
Why would that be a big deal? It happens to be a method that relies on Albert Einstein’s general theory of relativity. And it also lets observers find planets without having to detect one of them “transiting” a star.
Here’s how it works. Researchers at Tel Aviv University and the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics used the Kepler Space Telescope to home in on three small effects, predicted by relativity, that occur simultaneously as a planet orbits a star.
The first effect is a “beaming” or brightening and dimming that happens as light is tugged back and forth by the gravity of the planet as it moves toward the observer – in this case, the Keppler Space Telescope - and then farther away.