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

Image taken with Low-Frequency Array (Lofar). Australian scientists are part of team to use Lofar to discover radio signals that indicate exoplanets. Photograph: Cyril Tasse/OBSERVATOIRE DE PARIS – PSL/AFP/Getty Images

Australian scientists part of team using Low Frequency Array to detect signals indicating planets beyond our solar system

New techniques for spotting previously hidden planets could reveal whether there is life out there – or not.

Australian scientists are part of a team that has for the first time used a radio antenna to find exoplanets, which means planets beyond our solar system.

Using the world’s most powerful antenna – the Low Frequency Array in the Netherlands (Lofar) – the team has discovered radio signals from 19 distant red dwarf stars.

Four of them are emitting signals that indicate that planets are orbiting them.

University of Queensland astrophysicist Dr Benjamin Pope says the finding opens up “radically new opportunities” to study exoplanets, which may be habitable.

The research was published on Tuesday in Nature Astronomy, at the same time as a second paper Pope has authored which confirmed the data using an optical telescope.

Pope said it was staff at Australia’s scientific research agency, the CSIRO, who first started studying the sky with military radars during the second world war. Then CSIRO developed the Parkes Observatory – known as The Dish.

Lofar is a prototype or “pathfinder” that is part of the development of the Square Kilometre Array


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