First, Kepler spotted 19b as it passed in front of, or transited, its host star. Then, scientists inferred the existence of 19c after observing that 19b’s transits periodically came a little later or earlier than expected. The gravity of 19c tugs on 19b, changing its orbit.
The discovery of Kepler-19c, the researchers said, marks the first time this method, known as transit timing variation or TTV, has robustly found an exoplanet, LiveScience reported. “My expectation is that this method will be applied dozens of times, if not more, for other candidates in the Kepler mission,” said lead researcher Sarah Ballard of the Harvard-Smithsonian Centre for Astrophysics in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
The Kepler spacecraft typically hunts for alien worlds by measuring the telltale dips in a star’s brightness caused when a planet crosses the star’s face from the telescope’s perspective, blocking some of its light.
It has been incredibly successful using this so-called transit method, spotting 1,235 candidate alien planets in its first four months of operation.