Detecting alien worlds presents a significant challenge since they are small, faint, and close to their stars. The two most prolific techniques for finding exoplanets are radial velocity (looking for wobbling stars) and transits (looking for dimming stars). A team at Tel Aviv University and the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA) has just discovered an exoplanet using a new method that relies on Einstein's special theory of relativity.
We are looking for very subtle effects. We needed high quality measurements of stellar brightnesses, accurate to a few parts per million," said team member David Latham of the CfA.
"This was only possible because of the exquisite data NASA is collecting with the Kepler spacecraft," added lead author Simchon Faigler of Tel Aviv University, Israel.
Although Kepler was designed to find transiting planets, this planet was not identified using the transit method. Instead, it was discovered using a technique first proposed by Avi Loeb of the CfA and his colleague Scott Gaudi (now at Ohio State University) in 2003. (Coincidentally, they developed their theory while visiting the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, where Einstein once worked.)