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The most common type of star in the galaxy is the red dwarf star. None of these small, dim stars can be seen from Earth with the naked eye, but they can emit flares far more powerful than anything our Sun emits. Two astronomers using the Hubble space telescope saw a red dwarf star give off a powerful type of flare called a superflare. That’s bad news for any planets in these stars’ so-called habitable zones.
Red dwarfs make up about 75% of the stars in the Milky Way, so they probably host many exoplanets. In fact, scientists think most of the planets that are in habitable zones are orbiting red dwarfs. But the more astronomers observe these stars, the more they’re becoming aware of just how chaotic and energetic it can be in their neighbourhoods. That means we might have to re-think what habitable zone means.
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“When I realized the sheer amount of light the superflare emitted, I sat looking at my computer screen for quite some time just thinking, ‘Whoa.'” – Parke Loyd, Arizona State University.
Two astronomers at the University of Arizona observed young red dwarf stars as part of a program called HAZMAT, or “Habitable Zones and M dwarf Activity across Time”. HAZMAT is using the Hubble space telescope to survey red dwarf stars at three different stages of their lives: young, intermediate, and old. HAZMAT focused on the ultraviolet radiation coming from the stars, the part of the electromagnetic spectrum that these stars are most active in. Their results are detailed in a new paper.
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An artist’s illustration of a red dwarf star. If you could close enough to a red dwarf, it would actually appear orange because of its surface temperature. Image Credit: NASA/Walt FeimerDerivative: – NASA, Public Domain.
“Red dwarf stars are the smallest, most common, and longest-lived...
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