A planet without an atmosphere bolsters concerns about bodies orbiting stars smaller than the sun

phys.org | 8/20/2019 | Staff
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Most of the terrestrial planets in the galaxy orbit stars smaller than the sun. Because of their sheer numbers, they would seem to be promising candidates in the search for life elsewhere. But astronomers say they suspect that these bodies—especially ones in close orbit—are vulnerable to losing their atmospheres, necessary to support life. The discovery of one such planet beyond the solar system with no atmosphere at all clouds the prospects for its peers.

Those findings were detailed in a study led by Laura Kreidberg, a Clay Fellow at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA). In it, researchers show that planet LHS 3844b, a terrestrial exoplanet orbiting a small sun 48.6 light-years away, has no detectable layers of gases blanketing it to protect it from its sun's dangerous radiation and trap its heat. A planet's atmosphere makes it viable for hosting life and provides telltale signs of whether it actually does. It is also key to understanding a planet's origin, nature, and current conditions.

Decade - Size - Earth - Stars—which - Prospects

"We've learned over the last decade that planets similar in size to the Earth are abundant around other stars—which is crazy exciting for the prospects of potentially detecting life on one," Kreidberg said. "However, just because we know these planets are out there, we don't know anything about whether they typically have atmospheres or not."

The results, described in an Aug. 19 paper in the journal Nature, show that it's possible for planets orbiting M dwarf stars, which are much smaller and cooler than the sun, to be without atmospheres—this was, in fact, the first actual discovery of such a situation. The stars are known for emitting intense ultraviolet light, which can make for less-hospitable solar...
(Excerpt) Read more at: phys.org
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