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The sort of small, young, active stars that have become most exciting to astronomers looking for exoplanets may actually push away precisely what could be necessary to carry water to those planets — leaving them too dry to support life.
That's the suggestion of one recent study of just such a star, in the class astronomers call M dwarfs. The lead researcher presented an update about the project at a conference, where she stressed that the research was ongoing — but that it posed intriguing challenges to astronomers' ideas about where to look for life.
Colleagues - Conclusion - Space - Telescope - Images
Grady and her colleagues came to this conclusion by studying Hubble Space Telescope images of the debris disk surrounding a star called AU Microscopii taken between 2010 and 2018. The star is fairly close to us, at less than 32 light-years away, and scientists know that it's about 24 million years old. As far as scientists know so far, it sports one planet, which orbits once every month or so.
The images the team studied rely on a coronagraph, which blocks out the light of the star itself so that the disk surrounding it isn't outshone. "We basically put a fist over the star," Grady said. "It's exactly like walking down the beach at sunset when you're trying to see — Is that your friend who's got the ice creams you wanted? — so you just stick your hand out and block the light and improve your contrast."
Images - Team - Feature - Disk
As they were studying these images, the team noticed that they could see the same blob-like feature in the disk surrounding
The Hubble Space Telescope image on the left is an edge-on view of a portion of a vast debris disk around the young, nearby red dwarf star AU Microscopii (AU Mic), where several "blobs" of material could be "snowplowing" remaining...
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