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What we look forward to in LOFAR 2.0: Habitability of alien worlds

Published: Fri, 19/06/2020
solar flare

By Harish Vedantham


The Earth receives its life-sustaining energy from Sunlight, but “explosions” on the Sun can also be life-threatening. Explosions on the Sun’s surface, called flares, can spew out large masses of plasma and harmful radiation towards the planets. Radio telescopes have been instrumental in detecting and studying the physics of solar flares. With an exquisitely sensitive telescope like LOFAR, we can now look for similar radio signatures on other stars to decipher how conducive to life their exoplanets are.

This quest reached its first milestone recently with the detection of radio-waves from the star GJ1151 pictured below. The waves carry the predicted signature of a plasma bridge (bluish ribbon in picture) between the star and its planet.

GJ 1151

(credit: Danielle Futselaar)

This is the beginning of an exciting path for LOFAR 2.0. The search for exoplanets is one of the specific science cases that LOFAR 2.0 will be engaged in. 

The plasma bridge is just one way stars influence exoplanets. We expect to detect emission from several phenomena affecting the “space-weather” around exoplanets. With upcoming observations, we also aim to detect the magnetic fields of exoplanets which are their defence mechanism against stellar flares.

solar flare

A solar flare. (copyright: L. Fletcher)