A Tel Aviv University professor and his students have discovered a new planet outside the solar system. Tsevi Mazeh and his team were able to identify the planet using a light-measuring method, based on Albert Einstein’s theory of relativity.
The planet, later reaffirmed by a Harvard research team, will be called Kepler-76b, after a NASA spacecraft which supplied much of the data used for the discovery. Kepler is an observation craft, launched in 2009, with the mission of finding earth-like planets.
“This is the first time this aspect of Einstein’s theory of relativity was used in discovering a planet,” Israeli radio Galatz quoted Mazeh, who is also a member of NASA’s Kepler program. “We’ve been looking for this illusive effect for over two years, and now we’ve indeed found a planet with it.”
Kepler-76b is in the Cygnus (swan) constellation, located 2,000 light-years away from Earth. Its mass is double that of Jupiter and it has an extremely close orbit to its sun, with a day and a half cycle. The planet is so close to its sun that it doesn’t rotate and is “locked” in one position, so that only one hemisphere is exposed to the sun. That side has a surface temperature of 2,000 degrees centigrade.
The team had been searching for planets by measuring the light of tens of thousands of distant suns to find reoccurring changes caused by invisible orbiting planets. As the planets move around their sun, they cause slight changes in movement and light emitted by the sun. So even if the planet is too far away to be seen, the way its movement affects its sun gives an indication of its existence.
Photo: Tel Aviv University