Australian scientists have used a radio antenna for the first time to find exoplanets, meaning planets beyond our solar system.
THE WORLD’S MOST POWERFUL ANTENNA USED
Using the Low Frequency Array in the Netherlands (LOFAR), the world’s most powerful antenna, the team discovered radio signals from 19 distant red dwarf stars. Four of them were found to emit signals indicating that the planets were in orbit.
University of Queensland astrophysicist Dr. Benjamin Pope said the find opens “new opportunities” to study potentially habitable exoplanets.
Using technology from the manufacture of polarized sunglasses, the team figured out how to eliminate other objects such as black holes and neutron stars to focus on red dwarfs.
Joseph Callingham, lead author of the study, published in Nature Astronomy, said the team was confident the signals came from a magnetic link between stars and unseen orbiting planets.
Pope noted that more work is needed, and that thanks to the power of LOFAR and techniques such as wearing polarized glasses, we now have a new window in the sky and this opens up a space of possibilities for the future.
“THIS WOULD BE A DEEP DISCOVERY”
“So, we’re looking for planets with potential for life. It’s not just about finding a B planet for us to move to. It’s about finding out if there is life elsewhere in the universe. That would be a profound discovery,” Pope said.
Researching exoplanets, Pope said many planets orbiting red dwarfs may have been eroded by radiation. However, according to him, some of these planets may be in the Goldilocks zone (habitable zone).
I DON’T THINK WE ARE ALONE IN THE UNIVERSE”
Pope doesn’t think we’re alone in the universe, but he is careful to distinguish between the search for extraterrestrial intelligence and the search for evidence of any biological signature.
“I think there is life out there. I wouldn’t be doing this job if I didn’t think there was a realistic possibility of that,” Pope said, adding that he thought we would find an answer one way or another.