Earth’s largest radio telescope to search for “new worlds” outside solar system

BEIJING: As well as hunting for signals from alien life, the largest and most sensitive radio telescope ever built will search for extra-solar planets, or exoplanets, which have magnetic fields like Earth, within 100 light-years from Earth.

Astronomers from countries including China and France recently published their ambitious observation plan using the Five-hundred-meter Aperture Spherical Radio Telescope (FAST) in the academic journal Research in Astronomy and Astrophysics.

Li Di, a researcher at the National Astronomical Observatories of the Chinese Academy of Sciences and chief scientist of FAST, said scientists are more concerned about habitable planets, which should have not only water, a suitable temperature and atmosphere, but also magnetic field.

Philippe Zarka, an astronomer from the Paris Observatory, said planets are the most favorable cradle of life. As of today, about 4,000 exoplanets have been found.

There are six magnetized planets in the solar system with a planetary-scale magnetic field: Mercury, Earth, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune.

“In our solar system, magnetized planets are strong radio sources. Radio detection of exoplanets aims at the physical characterization of exoplanets and comparative studies with solar system planets,” said Zarka.