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Albert Einstein died 58 years ago, but his theories are still being put to use today.
Albert Einstein died 58 years ago, but his theories are still being put to use today.
Image: John Raoux/AP

58 years after dying, Albert Einstein is still discovering planets (sort of)

Astronomers have found a planet 2,000 light years from Earth, using a technique first proposed by Einstein.
Jun 4th 2013, 6:05 PM 9,009 12

Updated, 19:20

THE DISCOVERY OF a new planet around 2,000 light years from Earth – and twice the size of the largest planet in our own solar system – has been attributed to a phenomenon first found by Albert Einstein.

The new planet was found by applying a principle first laid down by the German-born physicist, when he first put forward a theory that objects will actually appear brighter than they actually are, through a phenomenon called ‘relativistic beaming’.

The idea, as TIME magazine explains, is that the travel of light and the passage of time in space will force the light into a slightly narrower beam than it would otherwise travel.

This means that the brightness of a planet in the distance will change ever-so-slightly as it rotates in orbit around its star, getting brighter as it moves around its star and approaches Earth, and then getting darker as it moves farther away again.

Man-made satellites can monitor the light in the distance and calculate their location based on the change in the brightness – and conclude, as a result, that the distant objects must be planets.

The use of relativistic beaming – also known as ‘Doppler beaming’ – to determine the location of planets was first proposed a decade ago, but even the astronomer who helped to identify the latest planet did not believe the technique could work.

“I thought the effect was so small we’d never detect it,” David Latham said. “I thought it was silly.”

Read: NASA’s planet-hunting spacecraft is broken – but they’re determined to fix it

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Gavan Reilly


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