Our Sun is considered to be relatively "calm," and only occasionally emits solar flares. It would be expected that smaller and cooler stars would be even more sedate, but scientists have discovered a tiny star with a "monstrous temper."
The star has much stronger solar flares than what is seen in our solar system's Sun, and the findings could help us better identify which exoplanets are and are not likely to be hospitable for life, the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics reported.
"If we lived around a star like this one, we wouldn't have any satellite communications. In fact, it might be extremely difficult for life to evolve at all in such a stormy environment," said lead author Peter Williams of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA).
The red-dwarf star is located 35 light-years from Earth in the constellation Boîtes, and is extremely small and cold. It spins so rapidly that it makes a full rotation once every two earthly hours; our Sun takes about a month to spin once on its axis. The star has a magnetic field several hundred times stronger than our Sun, which has confused scientists because of its small size.
To solve this mystery, the researchers looked at the star with the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) and detected emission at a frequency of 95 GHz. The findings are the first to detect flare-like emissions at such high frequencies in a red dwarf. The continuous emissions from this incredible star are 10,000 times brighter than what our own Sun produces, even though it is only one-tenth of the mass.
The findings could aid in the search for habitable planets outside of out Solar system. Red dwarfs are the most common type of star seen in our galaxy, and are the most promising to host planets with intelligent life. Since these stars are so dim, a planet would have to orbit extremely closely to be considered hospitable to life. This means turbulent stars such as the one looked at in this study would not be able to host planets populated with intelligent life.
"It's like living in Tornado Alley in the U.S. Your location puts you at greater risk of severe storms," Williams said.
The findings were published in a recent edition of The Astrophysical Journal.