Repeating signal traced to Earth-sized rocky world could reveal key to habitability

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(ORDO NEWS) — Astronomers have traced a repeating radio signal to a rocky, Earth-sized exoplanet that appears to have one of the most important things that makes the world habitable: a magnetic field.

This planet is known as YZ Ceti b and it orbits a small red dwarf located about 12 light years from Earth.

“Finding potentially habitable or habitable worlds in other solar systems depends in part on being able to determine whether rocky Earth-like exoplanets actually have magnetic fields,” said Joe Peske, program director at the US National Science Foundation’s National Radio Astronomy Observatory, which supported work.

“This study not only shows that this particular rocky exoplanet likely has a magnetic field, but provides a promising method to find more.”

The magnetic field is what prevents a planet’s atmosphere from being destroyed by powerful stellar winds.

Mars, for example, used to have an atmosphere and was a warm and humid planet before it lost its magnetic field, and without its protection, its atmosphere was gradually destroyed by our Sun’s plasma.

Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune still have magnetic fields in our solar system. And in the past, astronomers have found evidence of larger exoplanets with their own magnetic fields.

But until now, we haven’t been able to identify magnetic fields on smaller, rocky worlds outside our solar system. In fact, we didn’t even have a reliable way to look for them.

It turns out that a repeating radio signal might be the clue we need. The team believes this is caused by the interaction of the planet’s magnetic field with YZ Ceti, the star it orbits.

Repeating signal traced to Earth sized rocky world could reveal key to habitability

Before you get too excited, it’s unlikely that YZ Ceti b is teeming with life as we know it, even if it has a magnetic field.

The rocky exoplanet is so close to YZ Ceti that it only takes two days to orbit (by comparison, Mercury, the closest planet to our Sun, completes an orbit in 88 days).

But if the planet’s magnetic field is confirmed by further observations, it means that we will finally have a way to detect more habitable worlds like this in the future, which is incredibly interesting when looking for habitable planets.

The signal has been fixed. received by Carl G. Jansky in New Mexico and identified when astronomer Jackie Willadsen of Bucknell University in Pennsylvania looked at data at home over the weekend.

“I see something that no one has seen before,” Villadsen told Jason Stoughton in a National Science Foundation press release.

“We saw the initial surge and it looked beautiful,” added astronomer Sebastian Pineda, another researcher on the paper from the University of Colorado Boulder.

“When we saw it again, it was very revealing that maybe we really have something here.”

So what? causes a signal? The current hypothesis is that powerful radio waves are generated when the planet’s magnetic field penetrates the plasma spewing out from its star.

For this reason, YZ Ceti b, with its very short orbit, is a prime candidate for detecting a magnetic field, interacting more frequently and strongly with its star to generate radio waves strong enough to be detected all the way from Earth.

“We are looking for planets that are really close to their stars and about the size of Earth.

These planets are too close to their stars to be anywhere you could live, but because they are so close, the planet is sort of tearing through a pile of material coming from the star.” Willadsen said.

“If a planet has a magnetic field and it passes through enough stellar matter, it will cause the star to emit bright radio waves.”

This is, in fact, what the team saw: over five periods of observation, Villadsen and Pineda found powerful radio signals emitted by YZ Ceti almost synchronous with the orbital period of YZ Ceti b, indicating that this is an interaction between the planet and the star that created them . p>

Based on the strength of the radio waves, the team was able to show that they could be explained by the planet’s magnetic field. If confirmed, it would be the first Earth-sized rocky exoplanet to have such a planet.

But even though the evidence is strong at this point, it’s still not enough to rule out that something else is causing the stellar anomaly. radio waves.

There’s also the fact that the radio waves were “almost” (but not perfectly) aligned with the planet’s orbital period.

This could be caused by a tilt in the planet’s magnetic field, the team explains in their paper, similar to the tilt in Jupiter’s magnetic field. But further observations are needed before we know for sure what we are seeing.

“There is a lot of additional work to be done before there is really conclusive evidence that radio waves are caused by the planet,” Villadsen told the National Science Foundation.

“Once we show that this is really happening, we can do it more systematically. We are only at the beginning of the journey.”

Fortunately, new radio stations are constantly being added, so our ability to “listen” to the stars is getting better and better.

It’s only a matter of time before we find a planet with what we’re looking for – a magnetic field that reminds us of home.


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