Researchers have devised a new technique that could help determine the habitability of planets

Our sun is surrounded by a multimillion-degree plasma called a corona, which is beautifully visible during a total solar eclipse.

About once a day, a magnetic eruption on the Sun will send a portion of the corona rushing into interplanetary space. This is called coronal mass ejection (CME) and scientists believe this certainly happens on other stars.

The average coronal ejected mass will produce auroras – beautiful streaks of colorful light dancing across the sky near Earth’s poles. The largest ejected coronal masses are fascinating once-in-a-century events that can disrupt satellite electronics and even our electrical grid.

During a massive attack that hit the Earth in the mid-19th century, electric currents shocked the telegraph operators working at their stations and shut down the entire system. The CME also allegedly produced a show of light so bright that it woke people up in the middle of the night.

When CMEs, or the barrage of fast particles falling in front of them, hit the Earth, they also affect the chemistry of the atmosphere in ways we can’t see, sometimes destroying parts of the protective ozone layer in the atmosphere.

RO Parke Loyd, a scientist at Eureka Scientific and formerly an ASU postdoctoral researcher at the school said: “Although CMEs look clear and exciting when we see them through our Sun-observing telescopes, they have proven very difficult to detect CMEs from stars”. Explore Earth and Space.

Loyd, along with the help of a team of current and former ASU researchers, including Evgenya Shkolnik, Tahina Ramiaramanantsoa, ​​Tyler Richey-Yowell and Adam Schneider, and collaborators from several other institutions, have devised a new technique for measuring the intensity of CMEs that will help determine the habitability of other planets. in our habitable galaxy. Their findings were recently published in The Astrophysical Journal.

“Much like the topic of exoplanets 40 years ago, we’re all but a few stellar comedic planets out there, waiting to be discovered. And like exoplanets, there have been a few one-off candidate discoveries for stellar CMEs. The scientific community is still researching for definitive evidence that stars other than the Sun produce CMEs. We need ways to look for stellar CMEs that can more clearly indicate when one occurs, and if so, what size they are — how massive they are and how active they are,” Loyd said.

As scientists, team members are also interested in the corresponding question: If stars do not produce large-size planets, how is this to be proven? And what do either of the two findings say about planets orbiting other stars?

“Our innovation is to develop a way to do both. The data in our experimental study enabled us to say that the Sun-like star Epsilon Airy, at least, does not produce CMEs at a rate of about 10 times more than the Sun. Applying this tool to new data is broader and more Comprehensively it will help us understand how widespread the CME is across stars of different sizes and ages,” Loyd said.

“One of the reasons this is so exciting and important is that most of the planets in our galaxy orbit red dwarf stars, but we don’t yet know if these planets can become as habitable as Earth. Certainly there are a lot of red planets out there,” Lowe said. A dwarf that could have a suitable surface temperature for liquid water, which is the basis of life.” “However, we suspect coronal planets ejected from these stars are much denser. And if they were, they could strip these planets of their atmosphere, and without an atmosphere, these planets couldn’t have liquid surface water.

“In addition, if they were directly exposed to radiation from the CME, their surfaces would be harsh environments for life. Our instrument is a step towards being able to measure the intensity of the red dwarf, and the CMEs of all stars, so we know if their planets are at risk of losing their atmospheres. no “.

As proof of concept, Loyd and the team of scientists analyzed archival observations taken with the Hubble Space Telescope, including two sets of observations originally designed to calibrate the young star, Epsilon Eridani, about 75% the size of the Sun.

“Observations captured three distinct flares, spurts of ultraviolet light that indicate a magnetic eruption on the star’s surface, and our new analysis enabled us to set unique limits on how much million-degree plasma it could contain was expelled by CMEs accompanying those torches,” Loyd said.

Arizona State University was where this work began in earnest by receiving a grant from NASA and the Space Telescope Science Institute in 2019, but Loyd stresses that it was a team effort.

“The project represents a broad collaboration between institutions. It was designed at the University of Colorado, Boulder, formed at Arizona State University and completed at Eureka Scientific, Inc. In addition, it includes significant contributions from other researchers at ASU, the CU Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics, and the Center NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, Lockheed Martin Heliophysics and Astrophysics Laboratory, and the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) Institute”.

What awaits us in the future? With the successful demonstration of this new method, scientists can begin to explore its broader applications to other data from the Hubble telescope, X-ray observatories, and even future space missions.

search report:Restricting the physical properties of coronal stellar mass emission with coronal dimming: application to the far-UV data of Epsilon Eridani.

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