Written by Jason Collins | updated
Many science fiction movies and TV shows have toyed with the idea of strong stellar winds, generated by coronal mass ejections, blowing away Earth’s atmosphere. While these ideas remain mostly in the realm of space science fiction, especially in the shorter timeframes, the same cannot be said for some planets outside our solar system, where stellar winds (a broader term) strip entire planets of life.
Charged particles from cool stars with strong magnetism can reach speeds up to five times greater than the average speed of our sun’s solar wind. In other words, the exoplanets orbiting those gorgeous stars are subject stellar winds Travel at speeds of up to 5 million miles per hour.
according to Space.comCool stars with strong magnetic fields can have stellar winds so severe that they play out a real-life science fiction scenario, stripping entire atmospheres from the planets they orbit, rendering them unable to host life.
These findings stem from various simulations conducted by the Leibniz Institute for Astrophysics in Potsdam, and could provide important information in our quest to find exoplanets, also known as exoplanets, capable of sustaining life. Space really is the last frontier, after all.
The AIP researchers found that some charged particles from cool stars with strong magnetism can reach velocities up to five times greater than our sun’s average solar wind speed. In other words, the exoplanets orbiting those cool stars are subject to a stellar wind made up of charged particles, traveling at up to 5 million miles per hour.
How strong is the stellar wind?
That’s 6,000 times the speed of a bullet fired by a pistol. And as you might imagine, such winds are strong enough to completely blow the atmosphere out of outer space and destroy the conditions necessary to support life on those planets.
Now, we’re not astrophysicists, but let us provide at least some context, courtesy of countless Star Trek Satellite episodes and documentaries. Most stars have what’s called a Goldilocks region, a region around a star in which conditions allow liquid water to exist on a planet’s surface, assuming the planet has a suitable atmosphere.
However, this does not mean that a planet or planets within the habitable zone will have life or even liquid water. Other factors, such as the atmosphere and magnetic field, also play critical roles. So, what does that have to do with the solar wind?
Cool stars with strong magnetic fields can have stellar winds so severe that they result in a real-life science fiction scenario, stripping entire atmospheres from the planets they orbit, rendering them unable to host life.
Stellar winds consist of charged particles ejected from stars, and when they collide with a planet’s atmosphere, they can transfer energy to atmospheric molecules. If the space winds are strong, atmospheric particles may achieve escape velocity and leave the planet.
Without the atmosphere, there would be an immediate loss of pressure, causing all the water on the planet’s surface to evaporate and then freeze. If that happened to our Earth, the average temperature would drop to -0.4°F (-18°C). Also, the sky will be pitch black, even during the day.
Fortunately for us, the Earth has a very strong magnetosphere, so it is unlikely that our atmosphere will disappear due to stellar winds. However, the simulations made by the scientists play a crucial role in developing a very complex observational model for the search for other habitable and habitable planets in outer space.
We can now observe some stars and their gravity, magnetic field strength, rotation periods, and other characteristics to determine whether planets in their habitable zones could actually host life.
Investigating stellar winds and how they interact with other celestial bodies deepens our understanding of space and charts a fairly clear course for potential space exploration once efficient space travel technology is developed.
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