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Astronomers find 17 red dwarf stars that may have aurorae triggered by orbiting Earth-sized planets

12 Oct 2021, 13:00 UTC
Astronomers find 17 red dwarf stars that may have aurorae triggered by orbiting Earth-sized planets
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Following up on work presented last year with a single star, a team of astronomers has found evidence for planets orbiting quite a few nearby red dwarf stars, and they’ve done it in an entirely new way: By looking for aurorae on the stars themselves.

An aurora on Earth is caused when electrically charged subatomic particle (like electrons) in the Sun’s solar wind stream past the Earth and are caught by our planet’s magnetic field. The mechanism is pretty complex but in a nutshell these particles are funneled down to the Earth’s magnetic poles (which coincide closely with the physical poles) where they slam into our air at extremely high speeds. This strips the electrons off the atoms and molecules in our atmosphere, and when they recombine the atoms visibly glow, creating the northern and southern lights. This also emits radio wave energy, too.

… but there’s another way for this to happen, and it’s the key to the new work. Jupiter’s moon Io is extremely volcanic. It spews sulfur into space around it. Jupiter has a ridiculously strong magnetic field, and it strips electrons from those sulfur atoms, giving them an electric charge. These particles are then accelerated down ...

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