Superflares from young red dwarf stars imperil planets

October 18, 2018 by Karl Hille, NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center
Violent outbursts of seething gas from young red dwarf stars may make conditions uninhabitable on fledgling planets. In this artist's rendering, an active, young red dwarf (right) is stripping the atmosphere from an orbiting planet (left). Scientists found that flares from the youngest red dwarfs they surveyed -- approximately 40 million years old -- are 100 to 1,000 times more energetic than when the stars are older. They also detected one of the most intense stellar flares ever observed in ultraviolet light -- more energetic than the most powerful flare ever recorded from our Sun. Credit: NASA, ESA and D. Player (STScI)

The word "HAZMAT" describes substances that pose a risk to the environment, or even to life itself. Imagine the term being applied to entire planets, where violent flares from the host star may make worlds uninhabitable by affecting their atmospheres.

NASA's Hubble Space Telescope is observing such through a large program called HAZMAT—Habitable Zones and M dwarf Activity across Time.

"M dwarf" is the astronomical term for a red dwarf star—the smallest, most abundant and longest-lived type of star in our galaxy. The HAZMAT program is an ultraviolet survey of red dwarfs at three different ages: young, intermediate, and old.

Stellar from red dwarfs are particularly bright in ultraviolet wavelengths, compared with Sun-like stars. Hubble's ultraviolet sensitivity makes the telescope very valuable for observing these flares. The flares are believed to be powered by intense magnetic fields that get tangled by the roiling motions of the stellar atmosphere. When the tangling gets too intense, the fields break and reconnect, unleashing tremendous amounts of energy.

The team has found that the flares from the youngest red dwarfs they surveyed—just about 40 million years old—are 100 to 1,000 times more energetic than when the stars are older. This younger age is when terrestrial are forming around their stars.

Approximately three-quarters of the stars in our galaxy are red dwarfs. Most of the galaxy's "habitable-zone" planets—planets orbiting their stars at a distance where temperatures are moderate enough for liquid water to exist on their surface—likely orbit red dwarfs. In fact, the nearest star to our Sun, a red dwarf named Proxima Centauri, has an Earth-size planet in its habitable zone.

However, young red dwarfs are active stars, producing ultraviolet flares that blast out so much energy that they could influence atmospheric chemistry and possibly strip off the atmospheres of these fledgling planets.

"The goal of the HAZMAT program is to help understand the habitability of planets around low-mass stars," explained Arizona State University's Evgenya Shkolnik, the program's principal investigator. "These low-mass stars are critically important in understanding planetary atmospheres."

The results of the first part of this Hubble program are being published in The Astrophysical Journal. This study examines the flare frequency of 12 young red dwarfs. "Getting these data on the young stars has been especially important, because the difference in their flare activity is quite large as compared to older stars," said Arizona State University's Parke Loyd, the first author on this paper.

The observing program detected one of the most intense stellar flares ever observed in ultraviolet light. Dubbed the "Hazflare," this event was more energetic than the most powerful flare from our Sun ever recorded.

"With the Sun, we have a hundred years of good observations," Loyd said. "And in that time, we've seen one, maybe two, flares that have an energy approaching that of the Hazflare. In a little less than a day's worth of Hubble observations of these young stars, we caught the Hazflare, which means that we're looking at superflares happening every day or even a few times a day."

Could super-flares of such frequency and intensity bathe young planets in so much ultraviolet radiation that they forever doom chances of habitability? According to Loyd, "Flares like we observed have the capacity to strip away the atmosphere from a planet. But that doesn't necessarily mean doom and gloom for life on the planet. It just might be different life than we imagine. Or there might be other processes that could replenish the atmosphere of the planet. It's certainly a harsh environment, but I would hesitate to say that it is a sterile environment."

The next part of the HAZMAT study will be to study intermediate-aged red dwarfs that are 650 million years old. Then the oldest will be analyzed and compared with the young and intermediate stars to understand the evolution of the environment of low-mass planets around these .

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Parsec
5 / 5 (5) Oct 18, 2018
It is worth noting that the very earliest life has been reliably detected on earth dates from about 1 billion years after the planets formation. In fact, it is quite likely that the earth's atmosphere and hydrosphere was formed and destroyed multiple times during the early years by well recorded intense bombardment via space debris (the so called late bombardment, etc.).

Further, the earth is a very dry planet relatively speaking, with less than 1% total water by weight. It is likely that those planets with a higher percentage of water could not only reform their atmosphere over time, but contain pockets of habitability even during times of intense flaring. After all, intense UV light and water produces H2 and O2 in abundance.

I would love to see what red dwarfs look like after a few billion years. Given their estimated lifetime of 100 billion yrs or more, that is a very small fraction of their lifetime after all.
Parsec
3.7 / 5 (3) Oct 18, 2018
Surveillance_Egg_Unit
2.4 / 5 (8) Oct 19, 2018
While it is possible that planets such as the Earth have been sanitised of Life forms at least once in their history, according to those who specialise in genesis through chemistry, as long as the basic chemicals, temperature and water are present in rocky regions of underwater volcanos, there will be made possible another genesis through chemicals that have somehow conglomerated in one place.
So in that case, Life is readily available to try again under the right conditions, rendering solar flares, etc. moot.
FredJose
1.4 / 5 (11) Oct 19, 2018
there will be made possible another genesis through chemicals that have somehow conglomerated in one place.
So in that case, Life is readily available to try again under the right conditions, rendering solar flares, etc. moot.


This is a pipe dream of those who insist that there is no Creator. Pure, basic scientific principles indicate that it's impossible for life to arise all by itself via random chemical and physical processes.

So there is absolutely ZERO chance of a huge solar flare wiping out existing life and then having another "genesis" take place. It's ironic that you actually use that word in this context.

Just so by the way, our sun is exceptionally stable. So stable in fact (0.06% variance) that it uncannily resembles an extremely well-designed and engineered furnace. Exactly as required for the delicate cargo earth is carrying. There is no other star in existence that we know of at this time that is so stable. All other known stars have super flares.
FredJose
1.4 / 5 (9) Oct 19, 2018
the earth is a very dry planet relatively speaking, with less than 1% total water by weight

That might be true on one level but on another level there is enough water to cover a "smoothed out " earth surface a mile deep in water!!!!
Where did this water come from? Scientists cannot answer that question without tripping all over themselves.
Why does the moon still have water? Scientist can only shrug their shoulders.
And so it goes.
Every planet in the solar system falsifies the nebular planetary formation theory at more than a single point. Hence one has to ask : Just WHAT will it take for scientists to give up on that useless and mythical mind-virus?
The answer is of course clear: Since they do not acknowledge creation, they are stuck with having to believe in fairy tales.
Benni
2.5 / 5 (8) Oct 19, 2018
Just so by the way, our sun is exceptionally stable. So stable in fact (0.06% variance) that it uncannily resembles an extremely well-designed and engineered furnace. Exactly as required for the delicate cargo earth is carrying. There is no other star in existence that we know of at this time that is so stable. All other known stars have super flares


You'd better be careful with this kind of stuff, imagining this tiny little area of the entirety of the Universe that is our solar system is such a special place that it may not have gotten here by accident? You're drinking the kool-aide?
antialias_physorg
4 / 5 (12) Oct 19, 2018

That might be true on one level but on another level there is enough water to cover a "smoothed out " earth surface a mile deep in water!!!!

Do you even comprehend how litle that is compared to the roughly einght THOUSAND miles diameter?

It's amazing how some people think humans (which are basically a two meter high bio-film on this planet) could be considered the most important thing - some even think in the universe! - when looking at the actual scales involved.

Where did this water come from? Scientists cannot answer that question without tripping all over themselves.
Why does the moon still have water? Scientist can only shrug their shoulders.

Scientist have answers for all that - you're just too lazy to look them up.
antialias_physorg
4.3 / 5 (11) Oct 19, 2018
Note also that being a scientist does not hinge on being omniscient.
One of the most profound statements in science is: "I don't know"...because that is where scientific work (and thought) starts.

in religion it's always: "This is weird. Oh, well. God did it" (or you just make something up and call it a day). That's where thought stops.

If you are a person who believes god made everything then you should ask yourself: why did he give you a brain if you refuse to use it?
rrwillsj
2.3 / 5 (3) Oct 19, 2018
free will is not wasted on the religious, It is simply non-existent! Just like all the rest of their stuporstitions.
tblakely1357
1 / 5 (1) Oct 19, 2018
Rather ironic that for millennia earth along with humanity was considered unique, then astronomy discovered trillions upon trillions of stars pushing the assumption that intelligent life must be common throughout the universe. Now we're finding out that our solar system and earth is pretty unique and the likelihood of life similar to us may be extremely rare.
Old_C_Code
not rated yet Oct 20, 2018
"Now we're finding out that our solar system and earth is pretty unique"

Oh BS, you just make chit up.

Billions of stars, many many odd planets detected already. One galaxy in billions, you are simply foolish. I'm tired of foolish people. Especially religious ones.
rrwillsj
not rated yet Oct 20, 2018
Yeah blake, as the seasons change, the reasons change. To repeat myself. Billions of lotto tickets sold and only one winner!

old_coot, the fool's cap is on your own head. In this Solar System alone? Including the moons, there are maybe a dozen small rocky planets.

To date, only one world is proven to have a living biosphere. If tou are not certain of which I speak? It's the one you are standing on. All the others were stillborn or rendered unable to sustain biology.

Fiction is fun and I have my share of crazy speculations but I am not going to confuse unproven hypothesis with proven reality.

As for the religionutters? My Theory of Stu[id Design explains that the deities are incompetent and drunk on cthonic chaos.

See how easy it is to explain Reality from a theological perspective? Just refuse to look into the eye of the telescope!
It truly simplifies casting a horoscope if you never go out at night. For the last few thousand years.
FredJose
1 / 5 (2) Oct 22, 2018
Just so by the way, our sun is exceptionally stable. So stable in fact (0.06% variance) that it uncannily resembles an extremely well-designed and engineered furnace. Exactly as required for the delicate cargo earth is carrying. There is no other star in existence that we know of at this time that is so stable. All other known stars have super flares


You'd better be careful with this kind of stuff, imagining this tiny little area of the entirety of the Universe that is our solar system is such a special place that it may not have gotten here by accident? You're drinking the kool-aide?


So what are you on about Benni? Can you refute the factual data I presented? I don't think so.
So where does that leave your belief in the mythical big bang? I challenge you to revisit that model and see how just about all observational evidence falsifies its basic premises. Yet the high priests continue to blind=side their followers into believing it's true.
FredJose
1 / 5 (2) Oct 22, 2018
Note also that being a scientist does not hinge on being omniscient.
One of the most profound statements in science is: "I don't know"...because that is where scientific work (and thought) starts.

It's one thing to not know something, it's totally another to behave irrationally when the actual observations falsifies your hypothesis and you keep on introducing rescue devices which are based not on fact but more speculation. Anti-alias, you might want to carefully distinguish between the two.
FredJose
1 / 5 (2) Oct 22, 2018
@Old_C-Code:
Billions of stars, many many odd planets detected already. One galaxy in billions, you are simply foolish. I'm tired of foolish people. Especially religious ones.

How ironic! Your response to tBlakely is precisely that of a religious person who is doggedly sticking to his naturalistic religion in spite of the facts presented to him!
The main problems in the naturalistic worldview is that stars cannot form from clouds of gas all by themselves, nor can planets form from clouds of dust all by themselves and neither can that most precious of commodities - life - form all by itself from lifeless materials via random chemical and physical processes.
But in spite of the actual SCIENTIFIC facts falsifying the naturalistic religion, the chief priests and disciples continue denigrating others who present them with the FACTS!
FredJose
1 / 5 (2) Oct 22, 2018
@anti-alias
Scientist have answers for all that - you're just too lazy to look them up.

As already stated, they are tripping all over themselves to explain the existence of the water. Whether it used to be the old meteorite bombardment or the newly discovered reservoirs in the earth mantle, they have absolutely no clue how it could have gotten there via the naturalistic nebular theory of planet formation. No matter how they try to slice and dice it, one postulate contradicts the other so they have no solid conclusion to state.

You might want to try the bible which states that the earth was formed out of water and from water, which would very simply account for all the water we find around us.

It is you on the other hand who has to appeal to the knowledge of the high priests of naturalistic religion to account for the water on earth. Pity for you they don't have any answer at all.

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