The Sun fluctuates far less than other similar stars

Genesis cover

On Christmas Eve 1968 three Americans became the first humans to visit another world. What they did to celebrate was unexpected and profound, and will be remembered throughout all human history. Genesis: the Story of Apollo 8, Robert Zimmerman's classic history of humanity's first journey to another world, tells that story, and it is now available as both an ebook and an audiobook, both with a foreword by Valerie Anders and a new introduction by Robert Zimmerman.

The ebook is available everywhere for $5.99 (before discount) at amazon, or direct from my ebook publisher, ebookit.

The audiobook is also available at all these vendors, and is also free with a 30-day trial membership to Audible.

"Not simply about one mission, [Genesis] is also the history of America's quest for the moon... Zimmerman has done a masterful job of tying disparate events together into a solid account of one of America's greatest human triumphs." --San Antonio Express-News

A new survey of 369 sun-like stars has confirmed what earlier studies have shown, that the Sun is remarkable inactive compared with similar stars.

A comprehensive catalogue containing the rotation periods of thousands of stars has been available only for the last few years. It is based on measurement data from NASA’s Kepler Space Telescope, which recorded the brightness fluctuations of approximately 150000 main sequence stars (i.e. those that are in the middle of their lifetimes) from 2009 to 2013. The researchers scoured this huge sample and selected those stars that rotate once around their own axis within 20 to 30 days. The Sun needs about 24.5 days for this. The researchers were able to further narrow down this sample by using data from the European Gaia Space Telescope. In the end, 369 stars remained, which also resemble the Sun in other fundamental properties.

The exact analysis of the brightness variations of these stars from 2009 to 2013 reveals a clear picture. While between active and inactive phases solar irradiance fluctuated on average by just 0.07 percent, the other stars showed much larger variation. Their fluctuations were typically about five times as strong. “We were very surprised that most of the Sun-like stars are so much more active than the Sun,” says Dr. Alexander Shapiro of MPS.

It is possible that this inactivity might be because the Sun just happens to be going through a quiet phase, but that is becoming increasingly less likely as the surveys find more and more sun-like stars, and none as inactive as the Sun.

If the Sun is this unusual, we must ask if this inactivity is a fundamental requirement for life to form. Active stars provide a more inhospitable environment. If inactive stars like the Sun are very rare, however, that suggests that life itself in the universe could be very rare as well.


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  • Jimbo

    Does the higher activity just move the “hospitable zone” further out on those stars in relation to the sun?

  • Jimbo: Unfortunately, no. You shift outward, you get less energy overall.

    The problem with a lot of solar activity is that the ecology will never have a stable climate to work with. This does not mean life cannot exist, but it suggests that great extinctions might happen more often. This will possibly make the development of intelligent life, which needs time to mature, difficult. If intelligent life does develop, it then must develop quickly so it can adapt to such events, should they occur.

  • pzatchok

    Depending on the actual orbit shape and the real solar fluctuation the temperature change could be small enough to support continued life.

    If we wish to colonize it.

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