A ‘coherent’ radio signal detected from a distant planet, YZ Ceti b, has led researchers to believe that the planet may have its own magnetic field, making it more likely to be habitable.
On Earth, our magnetic field helps shield us from the harmful effects of high energy particles and plasma from the Sun.
Until now, scientists have had difficulty confirming whether distant rocky planets have their own magnetic fields, which is crucial for determining their potential to sustain life.
YZ Ceti b orbits a star 12 light years away and the radio waves detected from the planet appear to be generated when the star interacts with the planet’s magnetic field.
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Because the planet and its star are in such close proximity, they provide an ideal opportunity to test theories on whether magnetic fields can be detected at such distances.
Researchers likened the effect to the aurora borealis, or northern lights, which occur when high energy particles from the Sun interact with Earth’s atmosphere.
Sebastian Pineda, an astrophysicist at the University of Colorado and one of the researchers who detected the signal, explained that “we’re actually seeing the aurora on the star – that’s what this radio emission is. There should also be aurora on the planet if it has its own atmosphere.”
Joe Pesce, program director for the National Radio Astronomy Observatory, said that “the search for potentially habitable or life-bearing worlds in other solar systems depends in part on being able to determine if rocky, Earth-like exoplanets actually have magnetic fields.
This research shows not only that this particular rocky exoplanet likely has a magnetic field but provides a promising method to find more.”
The findings were published in a new paper titled ‘Coherent radio bursts from known M-dwarf planet-host YZ Ceti’ in Nature Astronomy.