In DepthAstronomy

Telescope seeks clues to exoplanet interiors

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Science  11 Oct 2019:
Vol. 366, Issue 6462, pp. 169
DOI: 10.1126/science.366.6462.169

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Summary

Astronomers have discovered several thousand exoplanets, but beyond their size, mass, and—for a precious few—a hint of what's in their upper atmospheres, they are mostly shrouded in mystery. But last week in France, astronomers unveiled a radio telescope that could reveal what is going on inside an exoplanet. The telescope, tuned to search for beamlike radio signals whipped up by a planet's magnetic field, could show whether a planet has a magnetic dynamo—a churning, liquid metallic core like Earth's. What it finds could help researchers understand planet formation and whether the six planets with magnetic fields in our solar system are typical. The signals could also be clues to a planet's habitability. Magnetic fields protect a planet's surface from cosmic rays and the wind of charged particles from its star, which can be harmful to life. By deflecting stellar wind, a magnetic field could also prevent the particles from scouring away a planet's life-nurturing atmosphere.

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