KEY POINTS

  • Astronomers discovered a distant red dwarf star using radio waves
  • The star's movement was affected by the gravitational pull of an orbiting object
  • The astronomers discovered an exoplanet orbiting the red dwarf star

For the first time, a team of astronomers was able to detect an exoplanet by tracking down a star using radio waves. The astronomers first spotted the star due to its wobbly movement.

The astronomers made the surprising discovery using the Very Long Baseline Array (VLBA), which is a network of 10 radio antennas that are scattered across the U.S. Their findings were presented in a new paper published in the Astronomical Journal.  

Through the radio waves detected by the VLBA, the astronomers spotted a distant red dwarf star known as TVLM 513-46546. The astronomers came across the star after detecting its orbital wobble produced by its shaky movement.

The star’s strange movement eventually caught the attention of the astronomers. They theorized that an orbiting cosmic body’s gravitational pull might be affecting the star’s movement.

After observing the star’s surroundings, the astronomers spotted an exoplanet. Finding an exoplanet using orbital waves, known as the radial velocity method, is not new. However, what the astronomers did was instead of detecting changes in the wavelengths produced by a star, they looked for deviations in the cosmic object’s movement.

According to the astronomers, this method complements the radial velocity method and can help find exoplanets that are hard to detect, such as those that have a wide orbital axis around their host star.

“Our method complements the radial velocity method, which is more sensitive to planets orbiting in close orbits, while ours is more sensitive to massive planets in orbits further away from the star,” astrophysicist Gisela Ortiz-Leon of the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy in Germany and co-author of the study said in a press release.

For Ortiz-Leon, using their method and the VLBA could lead to the discovery of new exoplanets. Their technique could reveal exoplanets that cannot be detected by other methods.

“Indeed, these other techniques have found only a few planets with characteristics such as planet mass, orbital size, and host star mass, similar to the planet we found,” she stated. “We believe that the VLBA, and the astrometry technique in general, could reveal many more similar planets.”

Exoplanet Scientists have discovered that a new medium-sized planet is vanishing at a faster rate than others. Pictured: A hand out image made available by the European Southern Observatory on August 24 2016, shows an artist's impression of the planet Proxima b orbiting the red dwarf star Proxima Centauri, the closest star to the Solar System. Photo: Getty Images/M. Kornmesser