‘I think there’s life out there’: powerful radio antenna used for first time to find exoplanets

New methods for finding previously undiscovered planets could help us determine if there is life there.
Australian scientists have been part of an international team that used radio antennas for the first time to locate exoplanets. This means that there are planets outside our solar system.

The Low Frequency Array (Lofar), the Netherlands' most powerful antenna, was used by the team to discover radio signals from 19 distant red dwarf star stars.

Four of them emit signals that indicate they are orbiting planets.

Professor Benjamin Pope, University of Queensland Astrophysicist, says that the discovery opens up new possibilities for studying exoplanets which might be habitable.

The paper was published in Nature Astronomy on Tuesday. A second paper by Pope, which confirms the results using an optical telescope, was also published.

Pope stated that it was Australian scientists at the CSIRO who first began studying the sky using military radars in the second world war. The Parkes Observatory, also known as The Dish, was then developed by CSIRO.

Lofar is a prototype, or pathfinder, that is part the development of Square Kilometre Array. It will be the largest telescope in the world, based in Western Australia, South Africa. Pope stated that Lofars are a miniature version of what can be expected in WA in the next five to ten years.

The team studied space using radio signals. They also discovered how to filter out objects like black holes and neutron star to focus on red dwarfs. This was done using the same technology that makes polarized sunglasses.

Joseph Callingham, lead author, said that the team believes the signals are a result of a magnetic connection between stars and unseen orbiting worlds.

He said that it is a sight that has caught our attention from light-years away.

Pope stated that further research is necessary, but that the evidence is conclusive that the star is interacted with a planet.

Thanks to Lofar's power and other techniques, we now have a window into the sky. He said that this opens up new possibilities for the future.

Lofar has only seen a small portion of the sky so far. Pope stated that the SKA will allow them to search for hundreds or even hundreds of these items once it is online.

Red dwarves are known for having Earth-like temperatures on their orbits.

We were also looking for potential home for life on habitable planets. It's not about finding Planet B to live on. It's about discovering if there is life in other parts of the universe. He said that this would be a significant discovery.

Pope, who studies exoplanets said that it is likely that many red dwarve-orbiting planets were pleasantly warm but scorched by radiation, making them uninhabitable.

Some could even be in the "Goldilocks" zone.

His own opinion is that he doesn't believe we are alone in this universe, but he does distinguish between searching for extraterrestrial intelligence or looking for evidence of biological signatures.

There is life out there, I believe. He said that he wouldn't consider this job if he didn't believe there was a realistic chance of it, and that he believes well have the answer in our lifetimes.