Perhaps we first detected a radio signal from an exoplanet. What does it mean?

Perhaps we first detected a radio signal from an exoplanet. What does it mean?

Thanks to a new technique based on the detection of radio emissions, a team of astronomers has discovered a weak radio signal from an exoplanetap

(Photo: Jack Madden / Cornell University) The hunt for new worlds continues unabated . And now, it would seem that an international team of astronomers, coordinated by Cornell University, has managed to identify a radio signal coming from an exoplanet, in the constellation of Boötis. A faint and precious signal which, if confirmed by future observations, could become the first radio emission captured from a planet outside our solar system. "Observing radio emission is the most promising method for detecting exoplanetary magnetic fields," explains astronomer and first author of the study Jake Turner. "Knowing them will allow us to have valuable information on the internal structure of the planet, its atmosphere and habitability". The research has just been published in the journal Astronomy & Astrophysics.

Currently, remember, there are several ways to find exoplanets: among these, for example, there is the transit method, which is based on variations brightness of the star when the celestial body passes between it and the Earth. However, astronomers have recently managed to devise a new method for finding exoplanets through radio emissions. When the stellar wind, composed of charged particles from a star, hits a planet's magnetic field, its speed change can be detected with significant variations in radio emissions. Two years ago, in fact, the same research team had examined the signature of Jupiter's radio emissions and downsized those signals in an attempt to imitate the possible signatures of a distant exoplanet similar to Jupiter.

In the new study, then, Turner's team used this new technique, using the Lofar (Low Frequency Array) radio telescope in the Netherlands to examine three already known exoplanet systems: 55 Cancri, Upsilon Andromedae and Tau Boötis. Only Tau Boötis, a system composed of a binary star and an exoplanet (a hot Jupiter, that is a giant planet that orbits very close to its star) at 51 light years away, showed significant radio emissions, compatible with the Jupiter signature studied. previously. "We believe in an emission from the planet itself", explains the author. "The magnetic field of exoplanets can contribute to their possible habitability", explained Turner, "by shielding their atmosphere from the solar wind and cosmic rays and thus protecting the planet from loss of atmosphere."

The signal they detected, however, is very weak and has yet to be confirmed by other low-frequency telescopes before researchers can prove the true origin of the radio emissions. "We cannot rule out star flares as a source of emissions," the researchers explain. “Therefore, some uncertainties remain as to whether the detected radio signal comes from the planet. The need for follow-up observations will be fundamental ”. If the discovery is confirmed, the detections of radio emissions from exoplanets will open up an exciting new field of research, providing us with a new way to look farther and farther, and hunt for worlds that are tens of light years away from us.

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