Anytime we glance up at the night sky, we get an indication of just how vast and star-filled the universe is. Radio astronomers have leveraged the most powerful radio telescope in the world to detect stars sending out unexpected radio waves they believe may indicate the existence of unknown planets. Radio astronomers from the University of Queensland used the Low Frequency Array (LOFAR), part of ASTRON, the Dutch national observatory.
LOFAR is located in the Netherlands, and according to Dr. Benjamin Pope, he and a team of researchers discovered signals from 19 distant red dwarf stars. Pope believes four of the signals are best explained by the presence of previously unknown planets orbiting the stars. Pope says science has known planets in our solar system emit radio waves as magnetic fields interact with the solar wind.
However, radio signals from planets outside our solar system had never been discovered. The discovery of the signals presumed to be emanating from distant planets is described as an important step for radio astronomy. The discovery could lead to a new method of finding other planets scattered throughout the galaxy.
Before this discovery, radio astronomers had only detected signals emanating from the nearest stars, stellar gas, or other phenomena such as black holes. The researchers chose red dwarves to focus on because they’re significantly smaller than the Sun while having intense magnetic activity that drives solar flares and radio emissions.
Interestingly, in their search, older magnetically inactive stars were also discovered challenging previously held beliefs. The team is confident the signals they discovered are coming from magnetic connections between the star and planets orbiting the stars that can’t be seen. Pope is clear that he and the team can’t be 100 percent sure the stars have planets orbiting, but the existence of planets is the best explanation for the signals they captured.