New data: young red dwarf stars are not nice stars for life

New data from both the Chandra X-ray Observatory and the Hubble Space Telescope has reinforced earlier data that suggested the strong flares emitted by young red dwarf stars make them inhospitable to the development of life on any planet in the habitable zone.

A new study using NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory and Hubble Space Telescope examined the red dwarf called Barnard’s Star, which is about 10 billion years old, more than twice the current age of the Sun. Red dwarf stars are much cooler and less massive than the Sun, and are expected to live much longer lives because they do not burn through their fuel as fast. Barnard’s Star is one of the closest stars to Earth at a distance of only 6 light-years.

Young red dwarfs, with ages less than a few billion years, are known as strong sources of high-energy radiation, including blasts of ultraviolet light and X-rays. However, scientists know less about how much damaging radiation red dwarfs give off later in their lifetimes.

The new observations concluded that about 25% of the time, Barnard’s Star unleashes scorching flares, which may damage the atmospheres of planets closely orbiting it. While its only known planet does not have habitable temperatures, this study adds to evidence that red dwarfs may present serious challenges for life on their planets.

It is very important to remember that this data makes difficult the formation of life, as we know it. Since we know so little about such processes, as well as the formation processes of solar systems, it is too early to say whether no life can ever form around such stars.

A big planet circling a small star

The uncertainty of science: In contradiction of every existing stellar and planetary formation model, astronomers have found a half-sized Jupiter exoplanet orbiting a tiny red dwarf star.

The red dwarf GJ 3512 is located 30 light-years from us. Although the star is only about a tenth of the mass of the Sun, it possesses a giant planet – an unexpected observation. “Around such stars there should only be planets the size of the Earth or somewhat more massive Super-Earths,” says Christoph Mordasini, professor at the University of Bern and member of the National Centre of Competence in Research (NCCR) PlanetS: “GJ 3512b, however, is a giant planet with a mass about half as big as the one of Jupiter, and thus at least one order of magnitude more massive than the planets predicted by theoretical models for such small stars.”

It appears the universe does not care what this and other scientists think “should” happen. The universe will do what the universe wants to do.

This discovery only underlines how little we understand of the formation of stars and their solar system. Be prepared for many more like surprises in the coming decades and centuries.