Radiation blasts leave most Earth-like planet uninhabitable

November 17, 2015
The planet Kepler-438b is shown here in front of its violent parent star. It is regularly irradiated by huge flares of radiation, which could render the planet uninhabitable. Here the planet's atmosphere is shown being stripped away. Credit: Mark A Garlick/University of Warwick

The most Earth-like planet could have been made uninhabitable by vast quantities of radiation, new research led by the University of Warwick research has found.

The atmosphere of the planet, Kepler-438b, is thought to have been stripped away as a result of emitted from a superflaring Red Dwarf star, Kepler-438.

Regularly occurring every few hundred days, the superflares are approximately ten times more powerful than those ever recorded on the Sun and equivalent to the same energy as 100 billion megatons of TNT.

While superflares themselves are unlikely to have a significant impact on Kepler-438b's atmosphere, a dangerous phenomenon associated with powerful flares, known as a coronal mass ejection (CME), has the potential to strip away any atmosphere and render it uninhabitable.

The planet Kepler-438b, to date the exoplanet with the highest recorded Earth Similarity Index, is both similar in size and temperature to the Earth but is in closer proximity to the Red Dwarf than the Earth is to the Sun.

Lead researcher, Dr David Armstrong of the University of Warwick's Astrophysics Group, explains:

"Unlike the Earth's relatively quiet sun, Kepler-438 emits strong flares every few hundred days, each one stronger than the most powerful recorded flare on the Sun. It is likely that these flares are associated with coronal mass ejections, which could have serious damaging effects on the habitability of the planet.

"If the planet, Kepler-438b, has a magnetic field like the Earth, it may be shielded from some of the effects. However, if it does not, or the flares are strong enough, it could have lost its atmosphere, be irradiated by extra dangerous radiation and be a much harsher place for life to exist".

Discussing the impact of the superflares and radiation on the atmosphere of Kepler-438b, Chloe Pugh, of the University of Warwick's Centre for Fusion, Space and Astrophysics, says:

"The presence of an atmosphere is essential for the development of life. While flares themselves are unlikely to have a significant impact on an atmosphere as a whole, there is another more dangerous phenomenon associated with powerful flares, known as a coronal mass ejection.

"Coronal are where a huge amount of plasma is hurled outwards from the Sun, and there is no reason why they should not occur on other active stars as well. The likelihood of a coronal mass ejection occurring increases with the occurrence of powerful flares, and large have the potential to strip away any atmosphere that a close-in planet like Kepler-438b might have, rendering it uninhabitable. With little , the planet would also be subject to harsh UV and X-ray radiation from the superflares, along with charged particle radiation, all of which are damaging to life".

Explore further: Kepler satellite telescope reveals hundreds of superflares on distant stars

More information: The research, The Host Stars of Kepler's Habitable Exoplanets: Superflares, Rotation and Activity, is published by the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.

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16 comments

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Osiris1
2.5 / 5 (4) Nov 17, 2015
May be that small stars like this, having a much shallower gravity well, would be more prone to flaring inasmuch as the forces in stars would have a much easier time flaring in this way whereas in Sol, the greater gravity constrains much of the misbehavior. Maybe we will find this kind of flaring more prevalent in smaller stars, and the smaller the worse the behavior. That said, a case could be made for Jupiter being a very cool brown dwarf, and it has never done any flaring, however it is debatable whether it has ever initiated its own fusion furnace, as I am sure many will comment.
Antonaccio
3.4 / 5 (5) Nov 18, 2015
Flaring of a star is caused by convection in the layers below the photosphere. Red Dwarfs flare at such intense bursts because they are more convective than the Sun.

It probably has little to nothing to do with the size of a gravity well.
GSwift7
3.9 / 5 (7) Nov 18, 2015
Well, the mechanics of exactly why red dwarfs are more unstable are still a mystery, but we know it's not just due to more versus less gravity. There are other factors such as the magnetic fields, the way they burn fuel, the thickness of their various internal layers, etc. which may all play a part in that. Maybe one day we will figure that out. For now, we do know without a doubt (from observations of millions of stars) that red dwarf stars are less stable than our sun. We have known that for a while now, but we didn't know how common planets are around them.

As for Jupiter, it doesn't flare because it doesn't have nuclear fusion inside. It's many times too small for that. Jupiter has never been massive enough to have started fusion.

People have been debating the habitability of theoretical planets around dwarf stars for a while, but now we have an actual example of one to talk about. That's all that's new in this story really. Radiation isn't a surprise in this case.
Antonaccio
3 / 5 (2) Nov 18, 2015
Haha I'm glad I fact checked myself. I must've mixed it up with something else. Hmmm.
viko_mx
1.8 / 5 (10) Nov 18, 2015
Yes, again evolutionist rely on miracles.

The truth is that physical conditions in the universe and on the Earth are unique for life support.
And this conditions can not emerge by chance.
Torbjorn_Larsson_OM
3.9 / 5 (11) Nov 18, 2015
QFT: "but now we have an actual example of one to talk about. That's all that's new in this story really."

Yes, and as opposed to religious crackpots scientists do not have to rely on miracles to understand the world. That fact is that we can remove the weak force and still have a habitable universe, and that the existence of Kepler-438 shows that there is nothing unique with Earth (by being an Earth massed planet in the habitable zone of a star).

But trust a crackpot to perversely attempt to state the opposite of facts of the article as the 'truths' that would support his idiotic magic beliefs.
bluehigh
4 / 5 (7) Nov 18, 2015
It's disgusting presenting the image associated with this article as being real. Ordinary folk might believe it's a real photo. The image should be clearly labelled as 'an artists impression'.
javjav
3.2 / 5 (6) Nov 18, 2015
It could be in fact the opposite. I think there is a chance that cyclic flares can trigger live appearance: If the planet is a water world, the atmosphere would be replenished pretty fast. Radiation can also help to produce chemicals not available otherwise. And being each few hundred years, it could prevent greenhouse effect to get too strong (planets like Venus could have new opportunities to start again). Some of the cycles could be too weak or too strong, but as it is cyclic there is a good chance that some of the cycles have the right energy to strip part of the atmosphere and produce the right conditions for live to appear. And once is there, the sea can provide decent radiation shielding, specially as live evolves to adapt to these conditions.
my2cts
3.3 / 5 (12) Nov 18, 2015
Yes, again evolutionist rely on miracles.

The truth is that physical conditions in the universe and on the Earth are unique for life support.
And this conditions can not emerge by chance.

So in your view the emergence of life requires a miracle.
Science relies on evidence.
See, you confuse evidence and miracles.
gculpex
3.7 / 5 (3) Nov 18, 2015
Yes, again evolutionist rely on miracles.

The truth is that physical conditions in the universe and on the Earth are unique for life support.
And this conditions can not emerge by chance.

So in your view the emergence of life requires a miracle.
Science relies on evidence.
See, you confuse evidence and miracles.


That's 'what theory works the best for the evidence found to date....'
GSwift7
1 / 5 (3) Nov 18, 2015
to javjav:

It could be in fact the opposite. I think there is a chance that cyclic flares can trigger live appearance


That's a good point. We really only have one positive example of one set of specific conditions that did, without a doubt, allow life, so we really don't know much about it. This is one of the newest branches of science, after all.

The point you suggest is similar to the discussion about the possibility of life on a planet in a binary star system, where mainstream thought is that such a system is less likely, but there's a chance that such a system would be more likely to spawn life.

We really have more theories and flavors of theories than you can shake a stick at right now, but that's normal for any young field of study. Heck, even the creationist theories must be entertained at this point, since we don't have any contrary evidence, depending on your tolerance level for fringe theories.
SuperThunder
3 / 5 (4) Nov 18, 2015
Hilariously, radiation blasts might have the same effect on earth, assuming you believe in man-made massive radiation events.

That fact is that we can remove the weak force and still have a habitable universe,

Whoa, really!? I am not doubting what you are saying, it's just I had no idea and that's mind blowing to me. I would like to know more.
jyro
1.8 / 5 (5) Nov 18, 2015
All those other planets, stars, solar systems,and Galaxies are there for our enjoyment, put there by our creator.
antialias_physorg
5 / 5 (3) Nov 23, 2015
All those other planets, stars, solar systems,and Galaxies are there for our enjoyment, put there by our creator.


Now imagine if there were just one alien species out there with the same, dumb attitude. We'd be screwed.

Better that humanity grow up and lays aside such childish thoughts before we go out to the stars.
OdinsAcolyte
not rated yet Nov 23, 2015
Perhaps we are first.
Perhaps we are the only.
Probably not.
It doesn't matter. It is so very, very far to another world we can live upon.
The only way I can see we could ever do this would be to 'go around' the distance.
Travel or teleport at faster than light speeds. We are limited to light speed within the universe. so....go around it
OdinsAcolyte
not rated yet Nov 23, 2015
Perhaps we are first.
Perhaps we are the only.
Probably not.
It doesn't matter. It is so very, very far to another world we can live upon.
The only way I can see we could ever do this would be to 'go around' the distance.
Travel or teleport at faster than light speeds. We are limited to light speed within the universe. so....go around it

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