TRAPPIST-1 flares threaten possibility of habitability on surrounding exoplanets

The planets surrounding TRAPPIST-1 are closer to their host star than Earth is to the sun, making them more vulnerable to solar radiation.
By Brooks Hays   |   April 4, 2017 at 10:37 AM
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April 4 (UPI) -- To much fanfare, NASA scientists announced the discovery of seven potentially habitable exoplanets surrounding a nearby red dwarf in February. However, new analysis of TRAPPIST-1 suggests the star system hosts frequent stellar flares. Scientists suggest the flares could negate the possibility of life.

TRAPPIST-1 is located 127 light-years away from Earth. It is a cool red dwarf, or M-dwarf. According to the latest observations from the Kepler space telescope's K2 mission, the star consistently hosts energetic stellar flares.

Stellar flares are triggered by the rejoining of electromagnetic bands in the solar atmosphere. The phenomenon, called magnetic reconnection, powers a high-energy release of charged particles.

Most stellar flare events include X-ray and ultraviolet radiation, but the most powerful flares can be rendered in visible light.

Scientists at the Konkoly Observatory in Budapest, Hungary, identified 42 flares over an 80-day observation period. The largest of the 42, imaged in white light, was on par with the largest solar flare to hit Earth. The 1859 "Carrington event" triggered tropical auroras and set telegraph lines ablaze.

The planets surrounding TRAPPIST-1 are closer to their host star than Earth is to the sun, making them more vulnerable to solar radiation.

In their paper, soon to be published in the Astrophysical Journal, researchers argue TRAPPIST-1 flares have likely prevented the system's exoplanets from developing stable atmospheres. Without a stable atmosphere, it is unlike the exoplanets would be able to host life.

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