Closest rocky exoplanets could support life | 4/21/2019 | Paul Scott Anderson
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Artist’s concept of rocky super-Earth Proxima-b, the closest known exoplanet to our solar system, orbiting the red dwarf star Proxima Centauri. Such potentially habitable rocky planets orbiting red dwarf stars may still be able to support life despite the intense levels of UV radiation. Image via ESO/M. Kornmesser.

Some 4,000 exoplanets – orbiting distant stars – have been discovered so far. They range from hot gas giants larger than Jupiter to smaller rocky worlds like Earth. That’s exciting enough in itself, but one of the big questions is how many of those planets might be habitable. This is of particular significance in regards to rocky exoplanets orbiting in the habitable zones of nearby stars, since they are some of the easiest to study. One problem, however, has been that most of those known planets orbit red dwarf (M dwarf) stars – the most common type of star in the galaxy – which emit very high levels of UV radiation. This high-energy radiation suggests it might be difficult for life evolve on such worlds.

Study - Cornell - University - Lisa - Kaltenegger

But now a new study from Cornell University by Lisa Kaltenegger and Jack O’Malley-James makes the case that life could indeed have already survived in such extreme environments. The paper focuses on four of the closest potentially habitable rocky exoplanets: Proxima-b, TRAPPIST-1e, Ross-128b and LHS-1140b, all of which orbit volatile red dwarf stars. The new peer-reviewed paper was published April 9, 2019 in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.

The intense radiation from red dwarf stars has been considered an obstacle for life to develop on any otherwise habitable planets that orbit them, since that radiation can destroy biological molecules. But that might not always be the case. In the new paper, Kaltenegger and O’Malley-James make the argument that life on planets orbiting red dwarfs should still be...
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