In a major breakthrough in our understanding of exoplanets, scientists have now collected the first possible radio signal from a planet beyond our Solar System. The exoplanet system emanating the signals is believed to be about 51 light-years away.
The first-of-its-kind signals were discovered by researchers from Cornell University in the US using Low Frequency Array (LOFAR), a radio telescope in the Netherlands. The researchers uncovered emission bursts from the Tau Bootes star-system, which hosts a giant gaseous exoplanet much like Jupiter, but very close to its own sun.
In a study now published in the journal Astronomy & Astrophysics, the researchers found that the Tau Bootes exoplanet system exhibited a significant radio signature. This signature provided a unique potential window on the planet’s magnetic field. Scientists believe that the radio emissions are from the planet itself.
We present one of the first hints of detecting an exoplanet in the radio realm,” said Cornell postdoctoral researcher Jake D Turner. “The signal is from the Tau Bootes system, which contains a binary star system and an exoplanet. We make the case for an emission by the planet itself,” he said.
The team of researchers also observed potential radio-emission from other exoplanetary candidates in the constellation Cancer and Upsilon Andromedae systems. The one from the Tau Bootes exoplanet system, however, was the only one to be significant enough for further observation.
A new insight
Such radio detections, if proven to be true with further observations, can open up a whole new way for scientists to know more about such far-away exoplanets. As Turner explains, observing an exoplanet’s magnetic field can help astronomers decipher a planet’s interior and atmospheric properties, as well as the interaction of that planet with its star.
This property can also help in the search of alien life in the universe. For instance, Earth’s magnetic field protects it from solar wind dangers, thus keeping the planet habitable. A similar property on other planets can be a sign of the same.
“The magnetic field of Earth-like exoplanets may contribute to their possible habitability by shielding their own atmospheres from solar wind and cosmic rays, and protecting the planet from atmospheric loss,” Turner said.
(With inputs from PTI)