Astronomers believe they have intercepted what could be the first radio emission coming from a planet beyond our solar system.
In Brief: A group of astronomers exploring the universe using a series of radio telescopes has identified what they believe is a possible radio emission coming from an exoplanet in the constellation Tau Boötes. It is noteworthy that this radio emission, while likely real, does not mean it is a signal sent out by an intelligent species inhabiting the planet. On the contrary, based on what we know so far, researchers believe that the planet is responsible for the emission.
The planet from where the signal is believed to originate is a gas giant.
Follow-up observations will be needed to confirm the discovery. However, if confirmed, it would open an entirely new window to study planets beyond our solar system.
Studying the magnetic field of exoplanets can help us understand the habitability of distant alien worlds.
A team of astronomers led by Cornell postdoctoral researcher Jake D. Turner, Philippe Zarka of the Observatoire de Paris-Paris Sciences et Lettres University, and Jean-Mathias Griessmeier of the Université d’Orléans, has revealed in a paper published in the journal Astronomy & Astrophysics that they have identified what they believe is a radio emission coming from an exoplanet in the constellation Tau Boötes.
The discovery was made after the group of scientists was monitoring the cosmos using a vast array of radio telescopes; they spotted a single emanating from the Tau Boötes system, and they explain the signal they have intercepted could be the first radio emission spotted coming from a planet beyond our solar system.
As per the researchers, the Tau Boötes system is home to a binary star and at least one exoplanet. The researchers write in their study that the signal is coming from the planet itself, and their conclusion is based on the “strength and polarization of the radio signal and the magnetic field of this world, which are compatible with theoretical predictions.”
The system itself is relatively close by–in terms of astronomical distances. Tau Boötes is located at a distance of about 51 light-years. Interestingly, the primary star should be easily visible to the unaided eye under dark skies.
Discovering the radio signal in Tau Boötes
If confirmed, the researchers say that the radio signal could open an entirely new field of research for exoplanets, offering experts a novel way to examine alien worlds that are dozens of light-years away.
The signal coming from Tau Boötes was spotted by researchers using the Low-Frequency Array (LOFAR), a radio telescope located in the Netherlands.
The researchers discovered bursts of emission from a star system that is home to a so-called hot Jupiter, a gas giant that is very close to its own sun.
The group also looked at other possible candidates for exoplanetary radio emissions in the 55 Cancri (in the constellation Cancer) and Upsilon Andromedae systems.
Researchers picked out these systems because of “their proximity to the Solar System, the stellar age, the estimated planetary mass, and the small orbital distance of the planet.”
But of the systems they surveyed, only the Tau Boötes exoplanet exhibited a significant radio signature, a unique potential window that will allow us to study the planet’s magnetic field.
This is actually a big deal because observing an exoplanet’s magnetic field helps astronomers decipher a planet’s interior and atmospheric properties, as well as the physics of star-planet interactions.
For example, Earth’s magnetic field plays a huge role in our world’s habitability since it protects us from the hazardous solar wind. This is why the study of distant exoplanets’ magnetic field is such a big deal; through this study, we can see how likely an exoplanet is habitable.
The discovery of a radio signal possibly originating from an exoplanet in the Tau Boötes system is unprecedented, to say the least.
If confirmed, the discovery could help us peer deeper into the universe and expand our understanding of distant exoplanets in our galaxy.
This, in turn, will greatly increase our chances of identifying potentially habitable planets and worlds that meet the necessary conditions for life as we know it to exist on their surface.
Having that aside, this discovery is far from confirmed.
The authors themselves explain in their study that the radio signal they have intercepted is weak.
“There remains some uncertainty that the detected radio signal is from the planet. The need for follow-up observations is critical,” Turner revealed in a statement by Cornell University.
Hopefully, this will be confirmed as the first radio emission from a planet beyond our solar system, opening a new page to study distant exoplanets, and allowing us to better understand the chances of life on faraway worlds.
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