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Method to Find New Moons Uncovers Hidden Planet

from San Francisco Chronicle

The search for distant planets in the Milky Way is now so sophisticated that astronomers are searching for unseen moons around the planets that the Kepler mission's scientists have discovered.

A team of astronomers hunting for those moons reports that in their quest they have unexpectedly detected a hidden planet--and probably two--by using a technique that promises to aid the search for smaller planets much like Earth.

The technique is already in use by the Kepler team at the Ames Research Center in Mountain View, and was being used by astronomers at the Southwest Research Institute in Colorado and Harvard when they detected a curious kink in the orbit of one planet they were tracking in search of a possible "exo-moon." The orbit was curiously irregular, the astronomers noticed, and after carefully tracking it, they determined that the gravity of some unknown object too massive to be a moon must be tugging at the planet they were observing.

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