In a year and a half, everything is different: suddenly an exoplanet loses its atmosphere – the star around which it orbits is apparently to blame.
MUNICH – The Hubble Space Telescope observes many objects in space – some so often that it is able to detect changes. In the case of the red dwarf star AU Microscopii (AU Mic) and its planet AU Mic b, there was a year and a half between the two Hubble observations. While the research didn’t notice anything special when they first noticed it, after a year and a half the situation was very different.
Suddenly, the telescope was able to watch the star lose its atmosphere through violent explosions from the star it orbits 32 light-years from Earth. The star AU Mic is not even 100 million years old – in astronomical dimensions it is still very young. For comparison: the age of the Sun is 4.6 billion years. Young red dwarf stars like AU Mic are the most abundant stars in our galaxy. So it should also contain most of the planets in the Milky Way.
Young red dwarf stars like AU Mic are very active and dangerous to planets
However, young red dwarf stars are often very energetic and emit damaging radiation into space. Planets that get too close to a red dwarf star risk losing their atmospheres. Kelly Rockcliffe says in one NASA ad. The researcher is the lead author of a study on the topic being published in the journal The Astronomical Journal It was accepted.
In the case of the star AU Mic and its planet, the Rockcliffe research team was stunned by the difference between the first and second observation. “We’ve never seen an atmospheric escape go from undetectable to very detectable in such a short period of time as a planet passes in front of its star,” Rockcliffe said. “We were actually expecting something very predictable and repeatable. But it turned out to be strange,” the researcher explains, and continues, “When I first saw this, I thought, ‘This can’t be true.'”
Planet Joe says goodbye
Observing the planet’s atmosphere saying goodbye was eerie, “like a headlight on a fast-moving train,” said the NASA statement. Rockcliffe rates the observation: “This frankly strange observation is kind of a stress test for the modeling and physics of planetary evolution. This observation is very cool because we can study the interaction between star and planet, which is really very extreme,” she says.
Since red dwarf stars are the most common in the Milky Way, they are of great research interest. “We want to know what kinds of planets can survive in these environments,” Rockcliffe explains. Science has many questions: What will the surviving planets look like when the star finally calms down? Is there still a possibility of it being a habitable planet, or will the planets burn up? “We don’t really know what these final structures look like because we don’t have anything like that in our solar system,” the researcher asserts.
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Why did the planet’s atmospheric flow change so quickly?
The research team has different theories as to why the planet’s atmospheric flow changed so much over a year and a half. The change could indicate rapid and extreme fluctuations in the red dwarf star’s shifts. It’s also possible that a powerful explosion from the star altered the hydrogen escaping from the planet’s atmosphere so much that it was no longer detectable by Hubble.
Another explanation is that stellar winds shape the planets’ outflow so that sometimes they can be observed and sometimes not. These “hiccups” were observed by the Hubble Space Telescope. (unpaid bill)
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