Astronomers take first radio look for habitability of distant planets

August 28, 2017 by Greg Walz-Chojnacki, University of Wisconsin - Milwaukee

UWM astronomer David Kaplan and colleagues have begun a radio search for the magnetic fields of planets orbiting distant stars.

The team reported its initial findings in "A search for circularly polarized emission from young exoplanets," published in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.

The astronomers conducted a search of star fields in the constellation Scorpius using the Murchison Widefield Array in Australia. (Four of Kaplan's students helped build the antennas for the array last year.) This search looked at with known planets, and did a "blind search" for any signal that could be coming from planets.

Kaplan said the program is in part an indirect way to search for planets that could sustain life.

"If you think about what makes a planet habitable, you need an atmosphere," Kaplan said. "But you also need a magnetic field to protect the planet from damaging radiation from its star.

"If a planet has a and an atmosphere, it will have an aurora, which will emit the radio waves we're looking for."

While the searches did not detect , these are only the first results from a larger program to systematically search for radio emissions from planets orbiting young stars. The telescope is currently undergoing upgrades that will enhance its sensitivity for future searches.

Kaplan is also participating in a second observing program looking at stars to determine what the "space weather" would be like for orbiting planets.

Explore further: Under pressure: Extreme atmosphere stripping may limit exoplanets' habitability

More information: C. R. Lynch et al. A search for circularly polarized emission from young exoplanets, Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society (2017). DOI: 10.1093/mnras/stx354

Related Stories

More to life than the habitable zone

July 13, 2017

Two separate teams of scientists have identified major challenges for the development of life in what has recently become one of the most famous exoplanet systems, TRAPPIST-1.

The space weather forecast for Proxima Centauri B

April 3, 2017

Proxima Centauri, the closest star to the Earth (only 4.28 light-years away) is getting a lot of attention these days. It hosts a planet, Proxima Cen b, whose mass is about 1.3 Earth-mass (though it could be larger, depending ...

Recommended for you

Scientist explores a better way to predict space weather

October 22, 2018

Findings recently published by a Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) space scientist shed new light on predicting the thermodynamics of solar flares and other "space weather" events involving hot, fast-moving plasmas.

Gravitational waves could shed light on dark matter

October 22, 2018

The forthcoming Laser Interferometer Space Antenna (LISA) will be a huge instrument allowing astronomers to study phenomena including black holes colliding and gravitational waves moving through space-time. Researchers from ...

Astronomers propose a new method for detecting black holes

October 22, 2018

A stellar mass black hole is a compact object with a mass greater than three solar masses. It is so dense and has such a powerful force of attraction that not even light can escape from it. They cannot be observed directly, ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.