Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Harsh space weather may doom potential life on red-dwarf planets

Date:
June 2, 2014
Source:
Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics
Summary:
Life in the universe might be even rarer than we thought. Recently, astronomers looking for potentially habitable worlds have targeted red dwarf stars because they are the most common type of star, composing 80 percent of the stars in the universe. But a new study shows that harsh space weather might strip the atmosphere of any rocky planet orbiting in a red dwarf's habitable zone.

This artist's conception shows a hypothetical alien world orbiting a red dwarf star. Although it is in the star’s habitable zone, this planet faces an extreme space environment that is stripping its atmosphere and generating powerful aurorae. Since they are subjected to such harsh physical conditions, red-dwarf planets may not be habitable after all, so life in the universe might be even rarer than we thought.
Credit: David A. Aguilar (CfA)

Life in the universe might be even rarer than we thought. Recently, astronomers looking for potentially habitable worlds have targeted red dwarf stars because they are the most common type of star, comprising 80 percent of the stars in the universe. But a new study shows that harsh space weather might strip the atmosphere of any rocky planet orbiting in a red dwarf's habitable zone.

Related Articles


"A red-dwarf planet faces an extreme space environment, in addition to other stresses like tidal locking," says Ofer Cohen of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA).

Cohen is presenting their findings today at a meeting of the American Astronomical Society.

Earth is protected from solar eruptions and space weather by its magnetic field. Just like the shields of the Starship Enterprise, Earth's magnetic field deflects incoming energy blasts. We also are protected by distance since Earth orbits 93 million miles from the Sun.

Red dwarf stars are smaller and cooler than the Sun. To be in the star's habitable zone, where the temperature is warm enough for liquid water, a planet would have to be much closer to its star than Earth is to the Sun. As a result, such a planet would be subjected to severe space weather.

Previous work has looked at the impact of stellar flares from a red dwarf on a nearby planet. In contrast, the new research examines the effect of the red dwarf's constantly blowing stellar wind. The team used a computer model developed at the University of Michigan to represent three known red-dwarf planets circling a simulated, middle-aged red dwarf.

They found that even an Earth-like magnetic field could not necessarily protect a habitable-zone world from the star's continuous bombardment. Although there were moments when the planet's magnetic shields held firm, it spent far more time with weak shields than strong shields.

"The space environment of close-in exoplanets is much more extreme than what the Earth faces," explains co-author Jeremy Drake (CfA). "The ultimate consequence is that any planet potentially would have its atmosphere stripped over time."

The extreme space weather also would trigger spectacular aurorae, or Northern Lights. The aurora on a red-dwarf planet could be 100,000 times stronger than those on Earth, and extend from the poles halfway to the equator.

"If Earth were orbiting a red dwarf, then people in Boston would get to see the Northern Lights every night," adds Cohen. "Oh the other hand, we'd also be in constant darkness because of tidal locking, and blasted by hurricane-force winds because of the dayside-nightside temperature contrast. I don't think even hardy New Englanders want to face that kind of weather."


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. "Harsh space weather may doom potential life on red-dwarf planets." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 2 June 2014. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/06/140602115830.htm>.
Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. (2014, June 2). Harsh space weather may doom potential life on red-dwarf planets. ScienceDaily. Retrieved January 29, 2015 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/06/140602115830.htm
Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. "Harsh space weather may doom potential life on red-dwarf planets." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/06/140602115830.htm (accessed January 29, 2015).

Share This


More From ScienceDaily



More Space & Time News

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Asteroid's Moon Spotted During Earth Flyby

Asteroid's Moon Spotted During Earth Flyby

Rumble (Jan. 27, 2015) Scientists working with NASA&apos;s Deep Space Network antenna at Goldstone, California discovered an unexpected moon while observing asteroid 2004 BL86 during its recent flyby past Earth. Credit to &apos;NASA JPL&apos;. Video provided by Rumble
Powered by NewsLook.com
Water Fleas Prepare for Space Voyage

Water Fleas Prepare for Space Voyage

Reuters - Innovations Video Online (Jan. 26, 2015) Scientists are preparing a group of water fleas for a unique voyage into space. The aquatic crustaceans, known as Daphnia, can be used as a miniature model for biomedical research, and their reproductive and swimming behaviour will be tested for signs of stress while on board the International Space Station. Jim Drury went to meet the team. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
Mars Rover Opportunity Celebrates 11-Year Anniversary

Mars Rover Opportunity Celebrates 11-Year Anniversary

Rumble (Jan. 26, 2015) Eleven years ago NASA&apos;s Opportunity rover touched down on Mars for what was only supposed to be a 90-day mission. Since then it has traveled 25.9 miles (41.7 kilometers), further than any other off-Earth surface vehicle has ever driven. Credit to &apos;NASA&apos;. Video provided by Rumble
Powered by NewsLook.com
NASA's On Course To Take Pluto's Best Photo Ever

NASA's On Course To Take Pluto's Best Photo Ever

Newsy (Jan. 25, 2015) NASA&apos;s New Horizons probe is en route to snap a picture of Pluto this summer, but making sure it doesn&apos;t miss its one chance to do so starts now. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:

Strange & Offbeat Stories


Space & Time

Matter & Energy

Computers & Math

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins