Mysterious radio signals originating from distant stars could hint at possible hidden planets

·2-min read

In a major discovery, scientists have found radio waves emitting from distant stars, possibly indicating the existence of hidden planets. The discovery was made by the world's most powerful radio telescope, the Low-Frequency Array (LOFAR), which is located in the Netherlands.

Dr Benjamin Pope from the University of Queensland, and his colleagues at the Dutch national observatory ASTRON, have discovered signals from as many as 19 dwarf stars, out of which four can be best explained by the existence of planets orbiting the stars. The research was published in the journal Nature Astronomy recently.

According to Pope, the research "could potentially lead to the discovery of planets throughout the galaxy." He added that while it was long known that planets in our solar system could emit powerful radio waves due to their magnetic fields interacting with solar winds, radio signals from outside the solar system had yet to be picked up.

In their research, the team focused on red dwarf stars, which are much smaller in size than the Sun. These stars are known to have intense magnetic activity, driving radio emissions and stellar flares. Some old and magnetically inactive stars also showed up.

The lead author of the study, Dr Joseph Callingham of ASTRON and Leiden University, said that researchers are confident that the signals are coming from the magnetic connection between the dwarf stars and the hidden planets in their orbit. He said the interaction was similar to the one between Jupiter and its moon, Io, "with a planet enveloped in the magnetic field of a star, feeding material into vast currents that similarly power bright aurorae."

The team now seeks to confirm the existence of the hidden planets, adding that while follow-up observations have ruled out the size of the planets being larger than Earth, smaller planets could probably be in orbit of the stars.

Earlier, astronauts were able to detect the nearest stars only in steady radio emissions. Now, radio astronomers can see plain old stars and use the information to search for any planets surrounding the stars.

The LOFAR telescope can only monitor stars that are relatively nearby or up to 165 light-years away. The team predicts they would be able to see much greater distances after Australia and South Africa's Square Kilometre Array radio telescope is completed and starts functioning in 2029.

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