Why Red Dwarfs Might Not Be the Best Candidates for Finding Alien Life After All

Monday, 12 June 2017 - 2:27PM
Space
Alien Life
Monday, 12 June 2017 - 2:27PM
Why Red Dwarfs Might Not Be the Best Candidates for Finding Alien Life After All
Red dwarf stars—the most common star type in our galaxy. They have been the subject of recent discussion as planets surrounding them have been found to lie within "habitable zones," or areas in which life as we know it could conceivably form. This has been especially relevant with the discovery of Trappist-1, a planetary system whose planets orbit such a star and have been said to have the potential to sustain life. 

But could life really exist on a planet that circles a red dwarf? From what we've seen so far it seems promising. However, when we look a little bit closer, there is one main issue: mini-solar flares. 



On Earth, solar flares clearly haven't stopped us from flourishing. They can damage satellites or even create beautiful auroras, but they certainly don't kill us. The same, however, cannot be said for possible life on these other planets. Because, while the solar flares from these red dwarf stars are much smaller, they are far more frequent. A team of scientists recently convened to explore whether or not these flares would make life on these rocky planets less possible. Scott Fleming of the Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI) asked, "What if planets are constantly bathed by these smaller, but still significant flares? There could be a cumulative effect." Additionally, in order for planets like this to maintain "habitable" temperatures, they would have to orbit much closer to the cooler red dwarf star. This would make even smaller flares much more dangerous.

But, when we look at other planetary systems and attempt to label them as "habitable" or not, we are doing so under the assumption that all life in the Universe adheres to the same principles that we, as Earthly organisms, do. We already know, by studying microscopic extremophile organisms, that life can exist without oxygen, next to hydrothermal vents, and even within the depths of the Earth's crust. And, so, while the planets that circle red dwarf stars might appear to be devoid of life because of the consistent barrage of solar flares, it is important to not rule out the possibility that life may exist, just in stranger forms.
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