Two images taken six years apart by the Hubble Space Telescope show the evolution of fast-moving blobs of material sweeping through the protoplanetary disc of a nearby red dwarf (blocked out in this image).Image: NASA, ESA, J. Wisniewski (University of Oklahoma), C. Grady (Eureka Scientific), and G. Schneider (Steward Observatory)
Observations by the Hubble Space Telescope and the European Southern Observatory’s Very Large Telescope raise the possibility that young planets orbiting red dwarfs – the most common stars in the galaxy – may not be able to accumulate the water and organic compounds necessary for the evolution of life as it’s known on Earth. If so, the Milky Way may be a bit lonelier than previously thought.
That’s because huge blobs of material plowing through protoplanetary discs around such stars could push small particles, possibly containing water and other volatiles, out of the systems and away from young planets in the process of forming, effectively preventing the slow but steady accumulation of such materials over hundreds of millions of years.
At least, that appears to be the case for the disc around the young, 23-million-year-old dwarf star AU Microscopii (AU Mic) some 32 light years away in the constellation Microscopium. ...