Thursday, April 9, 2009

Red Dwarf Stars: Not the Undesirable Real Estate We Thought?

"Can Life Thrive Around a Red Dwarf Star? " (April 9, 2009)

"Roughly three quarters of the stars in the galaxy are red dwarfs, but planet searches have typically passed over these tiny faint stars because they were thought to be unfriendly to potential life forms.

"But this prejudice has softened lately. Preliminary results from a dedicated research program have shown that planets around red dwarfs could be habitable if they can maintain a magnetic field for a few billion years.

"Red dwarfs — also called M dwarfs — are between 7 and 60 percent as massive as our sun. Their lower mass means they don't burn as hot or as brightly, emitting less than 5 percent as much light as the sun. However, they have strong magnetic activity, which makes them relatively bright in X-rays and UV radiation and causes them to flare frequently...."

That UV, or ultraviolet, radiation could be a pretty serious problem. "...Several times per day flares shoot off the star, causing the UV radiation to jump by 100 to 10,000 times normal. For several minutes, the star appears blue instead of red. This increased radiation could sterilize the surface of a nearby planet...."

Or require sunblock with a very serious SPF number.

Seriously? We really don't know: but scientists who study such things are getting a little more flexible: and looking at a great deal more data now.

My own guess is that, if life can exist near a mildly variable star, on a planet that goes through glacial epochs at fairly regular intervals, it can exist on a planet near a red dwarf.

Or, not. Either way, it's a fascinating bit of speculation.
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