Though it has existed for roughly 13.8 billion years, it seems like there's always something new to discover in the universe. Whether it's a black hole or a new comet, space exploration is an ongoing venture all around the world. What did scientists find this time? Possibly hidden planets. According to Science Daily, a team of scientists from the University of Queensland and colleagues at the Dutch National Observatory have been searching for new planets using the world's most powerful radio telescope. "We've long known that the planets of our own solar system emit powerful radio waves as their magnetic fields interact with the solar wind, but radio signals from planets outside our solar system had yet to be picked up," says Dr. Benjamin Pope, researcher at University of Queensland.
While the discovery of new planets isn't unprecedented, the fact that they were found using radio signals is. In the past, astronomers were only able to use radio signals to detect the nearest stars already in our solar system; everything else was interstellar gas or phenomena such as black holes. With this latest discovery, scientists used the Low Frequency Array Telescope in the Netherlands to observe red dwarf stars, which are known to have intense magnetic activity that drives radio emission. The team easily found red dwarf stars, but they also found stars without any magnetic activity.
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Lead author Dr. Joseph Callingham of Leiden University believes the signals being picked up from the magnetically inactive stars are coming from the magnetic connection of the stars and hidden planets. He explains that this discovery is comparable to what scientists have already uncovered about Jupiter and its Io moon. There's a sort of tug-of-war between Jupiter and its moon, the magnetic field is so strong that Io creates lightning in Jupiter's atmosphere. "Our model for this radio emission from our stars is a scaled-up version of Jupiter and Io, with a planet enveloped in the magnetic field of a star," Callingham says.
Although the team isn't entirely ready to confirm the existence of four new planets, their research shows that this is only the beginning of discoveries with LOFAR. Right now the telescope is only able to monitor stars that are relatively close but there are similar radio telescopes undergoing final construction that, when ready, will be able to monitor stars at much greater distances.