Scientists around the world are searching the universe for exoplanets in an attempt to find life outside the earth. It was once thought that distant stars with frequent solar flares could mean any orbiting planets were devoid of life. A new study has found that robust stellar flare activity might not prevent life on exoplanets. The robust flare activity could help us detect life.
A new study published by Northwestern University researchers found that stellar flares emitted by the host star of an orbiting planet don’t necessarily prevent life from forming. Solar flares on the Sun can cause problems on the Earth with satellites in orbit and disrupting radio communications. In other portions of the universe, stellar flares could also deplete and destroy atmospheric gases, such as ozone on orbiting planets.
If those exoplanets lack ozone, researchers believe harmful ultraviolet radiation levels could penetrate the planet’s atmosphere and diminish the chances of life forming. The new study team discovered that stellar flares could have an important role in the long-term evolution of the atmosphere and habitability of an orbiting exoplanet. Researchers compared the atmospheric chemistry of plants experiencing frequent flares with planets that experience no flares.
They found the long-term atmospheric chemistry of the two types of worlds is very different. Scientist Daniel Horton, the senior author of the paper, said that the team found stellar flares may not preclude the existence of life. He says in some cases, flaring doesn’t erode atmospheric ozone, and life could still have a chance.
Solar flares can also be a good thing, previous work determined that space whether can help detect signatures of important gases that could signify biological processes. Stellar flares can increase life’s abundance, indicating gases like nitrogen dioxide, nitrous oxide, and nitric acid from imperceptible to detectable levels. Scientists are continuing to study exoplanets orbiting in the habitable zones of M and K stars in hopes of discovering extraterrestrial life.