A team of Cornell researchers detected radio bursts emanating from the sole exoplanet orbiting the Tau Boötes binary star system – making this the first radio emission received from a planet outside of our solar system.
All together now … with feeling:
OK, the team, led by Cornell postdoctoral researcher Jake D. Turner, Philippe Zarka of the Observatoire de Paris - Paris Sciences et Lettres University and Jean-Mathias Griessmeier of the Université d’Orléans, isn't yelling that with feeling along with us, but it’s a great signal they’ve picked up using the Low Frequency Array (LOFAR) radio telescope in the Netherlands. The exoplanet – a hot Jupiter gaseous giant named Tau Boötes b – is in a tight orbit around Tau Boötis, a binary system consisting of a yellow-white dwarf and a dim red dwarf that is 51 light years from Earth in the Boötis constellation. The radio bursts are almost certainly coming from the exoplanet, which has Turner’s postdoctoral advisor and astronomy professor Ray Jayawardhana pretty excited.
“If confirmed through follow-up observations, this radio detection opens up a new window on exoplanets, giving us a novel way to examine alien worlds that are tens of light-years away.”
According to the Cornell press release – the paper was published in the journal Astronomy & Astrophysics – Turner came up with the idea of studying the radio emissions of our own Jupiter as a way to detect other big gaseous planets outside the solar system. Using that data, they developed a signature for finding them in star systems between 40 and 100 light years away. The team’s “Eureka!” moment came quickly as they found candidates in the 55 Cancri system in the constellation Cancer and in the Upsilon Andromedae systems. However, neither were as significant as Tau Boötes b.
So … are aliens on Tau Boötes b trying to contact us … or anyone else listening?
“The signature, though, is weak. There remains some uncertainty that the detected radio signal is from the planet. The need for follow-up observations is critical.”
Like all good scientists, Turner wants certified proof that the signal is coming from Tau Boötes b. Also, the exoplanet is a hot Jupiter, not an Earth-like exoplanet with a magnetic field that contributes to possible habitability “by shielding their own atmospheres from solar wind and cosmic rays, and protecting the planet from atmospheric loss.” There’s not much chance our own Jupiter harbors life, let alone intelligent life with the ability to intentionally send out radio bursts.
Could the radio burst come from an exo-moon like Jupiter’s Europa, which has a salty ocean that could support life? Is anyone looking for Europa-like signatures or radio signals?
It’s times like this we mourn the demise of the Arecibo Observatory.