First radio signal from an exoplanet could have been detected, scientists say

Stars and the Milky Way are seen on the Navajo Nation in Hidden Springs, Arizona
Stars and the Milky Way are seen on the Navajo Nation in Hidden Springs, Arizona

Scientists may have received the first radio signals from a planet outside of our solar system.

The breakthrough could allow for a major new way to examine and understand distant worlds, according to the astronomers who found it.

The signals are coming from the constellation Boötes, which can be seen in the northern sky.

But researchers suggest that more specifically the radio bursts are coming from an exoplanet, marking the first time we have ever collected a radio emission from another planet outside of our own neighbourhood. 

"We present one of the first hints of detecting an exoplanet in the radio realm," said Jake D Turner, a postdoctoral researcher at Cornell who helped lead the study.

"The signal is from the Tau Boötes system, which contains a binary star and an exoplanet. We make the case for an emission by the planet itself. From the strength and polarization of the radio signal and the planet's magnetic field, it is compatible with theoretical predictions."

The findings are reported in the journal Astronomy & Astrophysics.

Further research must be done to confirm the source of the signals. But if it is the case then it will offer an entirely new way to understand worlds that are many light years away.

The researchers detected the bursts using a radio telescope in the Netherlands. They found signals coming from a star system that is a host to a kind of planet known as a hot Jupiter – large and gaseous like our neighbour, but much closer to its sun.

"If confirmed through follow-up observations," said Ray Jayawardhana, a professor at Cornell and a co-author on the new research, "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."

If researchers are able to examine radio signals from distant planets, they could use them to understand their magnetic field. That in turn would help find out the properties of its interior and its atmosphere, as well as the interactions between stars and planets – all of which could be used to understand how habitable it might be.

The new research emerges from previous work the team did to examine our own Jupiter, and extrapolate to understand how it might look if viewed from up to 100 light-years away. That gave them the pattern that might show if a similar planet was found elsewhere – which they now believe to have done.

The signal is still weak and unconfirmed, however. Further examination using other radio telescopes should help give further details and finally say for sure whether it is really coming from another planet.

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