Researchers have detected signals from tens of light years away that suggest a planet outside our solar system could support life.
Researchers have detected signals from tens of light years away that suggest a planet outside our solar system could support life.

First time alien ‘emissions’ detected

Scientists have detected what they think could be the first radio emissions from a planet beyond our solar system.

Analysing a planet's magnetic field and the radio waves it gives off can provide clues about its possible atmosphere, including if it might support life or even be habitable by humans.

Researchers from Cornell University in New York used a special telescope in the Netherlands called a low frequency array (LOFAR) to make the detection from an exoplanet that orbits a star around 51 light years away.

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A close-up view of one of the many LOFAR antennas. Picture: Martin George
A close-up view of one of the many LOFAR antennas. Picture: Martin George

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"If confirmed through follow-up observations this radio detection opens up a new window on exoplanets, giving us a novel way to examine alien worlds that are tens of light-years away," Cornell University astronomy professor Ray Jayawardhana said.

The detected exoplanet is believed to be a so-called "hot Jupiter" - a gas giant planet that sits very close to the star it orbits, which in this case is the Tau Boötis in the Boötes constellation.

"The Tau Boötes system contains a binary star and an exoplanet," Cornell University post doctoral researcher Jake Turner said.

"We make the case for an emission by the planet itself.

"From the strength and polarisation of the radio signal and the planet's magnetic field, it is compatible with theoretical predictions."

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An artist's depiction of the exoplanet Tau Boötes b shows a magnetic field, which may cause the radio emissions scientists believe they have detected. Picture: Jack Madden / Cornell University
An artist's depiction of the exoplanet Tau Boötes b shows a magnetic field, which may cause the radio emissions scientists believe they have detected. Picture: Jack Madden / Cornell University

The researchers expected to find the signature within the constellation, and eventually did after nearly 100 hours of sifting through radio observations.

"We learned from our own Jupiter what this kind of detection looks like," Dr Turner said.

"We went searching for it and we found it."

A Hubble Space Telescope image of Jupiter, the sun's largest planet. For Martin George space column for Hobart Mercury.
A Hubble Space Telescope image of Jupiter, the sun's largest planet. For Martin George space column for Hobart Mercury.

While the researchers are confident they found what they were looking for, "there remains some uncertainty that the detected radio signal is from the planet, Dr Turner said, adding further observations were "critical".

A follow up campaign to use multiple radio telescopes is underway.

A research paper on their findings has been published in the journal of Astronomy & Astrophysics.

Originally published as First time alien 'emissions' detected



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