A “coherent” radio signal has been detected coming from a distant exoplanet, suggesting that there could be exoplanets out there that are habitable for alien life.
Based on this new information, the exoplanet named YZ Ceti b, located about 12 light years (70,543,506,494,980 miles) from Earth, may have a magnetic field similar to that found on Earth.
“The search for potentially habitable or life-bearing worlds in other solar systems depends in part on being able to determine if rocky, Earth-like exoplanets actually have magnetic fields,” said Joe Pesce of the National Science Foundation (NSF), director of the National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO). “This research shows not only that this particular rocky exoplanet likely has a magnetic field but provides a promising method to find more.”
The repeating radio signal was discovered using the Karl G. Jansky Very Large Array, a radio telescope operated by the U.S. National Science Foundation’s National Radio Astronomy Observatory.
The research was published in the journal Nature Astronomy.
“The researchers theorize that the stellar radio waves they detected are generated by the interactions between the magnetic field of the exoplanet and the star it orbits,” read a National Science Foundation press release. “However, for such radio waves to be detectable over long distances, they must be very strong. While magnetic fields have previously been detected on massive Jupiter-size exoplanets, doing so for a comparatively tiny Earth-sized exoplanet requires a different technique.”
“What we’re doing is looking for a way to see them,” said Bucknell University astronomer Jackie Villadsen, one of the two researchers, along with University of Colorado Boulder astronomer Sebastian Pineda, to have made the discovery. “We’re looking for planets that are really close to their stars and are a similar size to Earth. These planets are way too close to their stars to be somewhere you could live, but because they are so close the planet is kind of plowing through a bunch of stuff coming off the star.
“If the planet has a magnetic field and it plows through enough star stuff, it will cause the star to emit bright radio waves.”
“This is telling us new information about the environment around stars,” Pineda added. “This idea is what we’re calling ‘extrasolar space weather.'”
“This could really plausibly be” the best candidate yet for a rocky exoplanet with a magnetic field, said Villadsen. “But I think it’s going to be a lot of follow-up work before a really strong confirmation of radio waves caused by a planet comes out.”