So far, just over 4,000 exoplanets have been confirmed orbiting other stars, with many more waiting to be verified and discovered. Even though they are so far away, scientists have been able to start to obtain clues as to what some of them look like, whether they are large gas giants like Jupiter or smaller rocky worlds like Earth, and what is in their atmospheres. But now a new radio telescope in France will be able to “see inside” some of these exotic worlds by studying their magnetic fields. An active magnetic field would point to a planet having a magnetic dynamo deep inside it, a churning, liquid metallic core.
The telescope will be part of the Low Frequency Array (LOFAR), a European radio telescope array centered in the Netherlands. The new instrument itself, the New Extension in Nançay Upgrading LOFAR (NenuFAR), is located at the Nançay Radioastronomy Station in France. One of LOFAR’s main tasks is to locate radio signals from the earliest stars in the universe. But it will also look for evidence of magnetic fields around exoplanets. According to astrophysicist Evgenya Shkolnik of Arizona State University in Tempe:
It’s a probe into internal structure that there ...