Scientists have discovered stars unexpectedly blasting out radio waves. This could reveal whether there is life out there. The unexpected discovery was made by world’s most powerful radio antenna. The University of Queensland’s Dr Benjamin Pope and colleagues at the Dutch national observatory ASTRON have been searching for planets using radio telescope Low-Frequency Array (LOFAR) situated in the Netherlands. Signals from 19 distant red dwarf stars were discovered. Four of which are best explained by the existence of planets orbiting them.
The team studies space using radio signals, and worked out how to screen out other objects such as black holes and neutron stars to focus on red dwarfs. Lead author Joseph Callingham said the team is confident the signals come from a magnetic connection between the stars and unseen orbiting planets.
Pope, who researches exoplanets, said it was likely that many planets orbiting red dwarves were pleasantly balmy, but scoured by radiation, rendering them uninhabitable. This discovery is an important step for radio astronomy and could potentially lead to the discovery of planets throughout the galaxy, he added.
Previously, astronomers were only able to detect the very nearest stars in steady radio emission, and everything else in the radio sky was interstellar gas or exotica such as black holes. Now, radio astronomers are able to see plain old stars when they make their observations, and with that information, we can search for any planets surrounding those stars.
The discoveries with LOFAR are just the beginning, but the telescope only has the capacity to monitor stars that are relatively nearby, up to 165 light years away. With Australia and South Africa’s Square Kilometre Array radio telescope finally under construction, hopefully switching on in 2029, the team predict they will be able to see hundreds of relevant stars out to much greater distances.