Alien Planets of Red Dwarf Stars --"If Life is Discovered There It May Be Older & More Evolved"
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May 11, 2013

Alien Planets of Red Dwarf Stars --"If Life is Discovered There It May Be Older & More Evolved"

 

                      091216131738-large

 

In 2010 a team of planet hunters from the University of California (UC) Santa Cruz, and the Carnegie Institution of Washington announced the discovery of a planet with three times the mass of Earth orbiting a nearby star at a distance that places it squarely in the middle of the star's "habitable zone." The planet designated Gliese 581g orbits its red dwarf star in just under 37 days. Its mass indicates that it is probably a rocky planet with a definite surface and enough gravity to hold on to an atmosphere.

The red dwarf star Gliese 581, located 20 light years away from Earth in the constellation Libra, has two previously detected planets that lie at the edges of the habitable zone, one on the hot side (planet c) and one on the cold side (planet d). Some astronomers still think planet d may be habitable if it has a thick atmosphere with a strong greenhouse effect. The newly-discovered planet g, however, lies right in the middle of the habitable zone.

This discovery was the result of more than a decade of observations using the W. M. Keck Observatory in Hawaii, one of the world's largest optical telescopes. The research, sponsored by NASA and the National Science Foundation, placed the planet in an area where liquid water could exist on the planet's surface. If confirmed, this would be the most Earth-like exoplanet yet discovered and the first strong case for a potentially habitable one.

To astronomers, a "potentially habitable" planet is one that could sustain life, not necessarily one where humans would thrive. Habitability depends on many factors, but having liquid water and an atmosphere are among the most important.

“We thought we would have to search vast distances to find an Earth-like planet. Now we realize another Earth is probably in our own backyard, waiting to be spotted,” said Courtney Dressing of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA).

Six percent of red-dwarf stars have habitable, Earth-sized planets, astronomers at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA) have found. Red dwarfs are the most common stars in our galaxy; about 75 percent of the closest stars are red dwarfs. The closest Earth-like planet could be just 13 light-years away, Harvard astronomer and lead author Courtney Dressing calculated. Since red dwarf stars live much longer than Sun-like stars, this discovery raises the interesting possibility that life on such a planet would be much older and more evolved than life on Earth.

Red dwarf stars are smaller, cooler, and fainter than our Sun. An average red dwarf is only one-third as large and one-thousandth as bright as the Sun. The cFa team culled the Kepler catalog of 158,000 target stars to identify all the red dwarfs, then reanalyzed those stars to calculate more accurate sizes and temperatures. They found that almost all of those stars were smaller and cooler than previously thought.

Locating nearby Earth-like worlds may require a dedicated small space telescope, or a large network of ground-based telescopes. Follow-up studies with instruments like the Giant Magellan Telescope and James Webb Space Telescope could tell us whether any warm, transiting planets have an atmosphere and further probe its chemistry.

Fast forward to 2013, Raymond Pierrehumbert at the University of Chicago studied the range of climates that Gliese 581 g might have and "found one that would have a pool of water on one side, making it look like an eyeball." Should future observations disprove the existence of Gliese 581 g, Pierrehumbert says his efforts could help determine the habitability of exo-Earths still to be discovered.

 

           Eyeballearths

 

Because Gliese 581 g is tidally locked to its star, with one side always facing the star and basking in perpetual daylight, while the side facing away from the star is in perpetual darkness, the most habitable zone on the planet's surface would be the line between shadow and light (known as the "terminator").

The artist's conception at top of the page shows the newly discovered super-Earth GJ 1214b, which orbits a red dwarf star 40 light-years from our Earth. It was discovered by the MEarth project -- a small fleet of ground-based telescopes no larger than those many amateur astronomers have in their backyards. 

The Daily Galaxy via http://arxiv.org, NASA, Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics
and New Scientist

Image Credit: David A. Aguilar, CfA and http://rareearth.wikia.com/wiki/User:Beau.TheConsortium

Comments

This was a great and interesting article, that really stimulated my imagination of what life around Red-Dwarfs might be like!

But of course... it would be overly simplistic to assume that longer-evolutionary-time will necessarily lead to a more "evolved" or complex creature.

For example, the humble earth-animal known as the "sponge", has about half a billion years head start on humans in terms of evolutionary time.

And yet, even with that massive expanse of time (half a billion years!) it did not lead to the subjugation of humans by highly evolved sponges (unless of course you count Sponge-Bob-Square-Pants).

Why not? Given half a billion years... you would think that sponges really should have had more than enough time to evolve, and take over the galaxy by now...

But the sponges have not achieved this, and are probably one of the most stagnant life forms, remaining essentially the same for hundreds of millions of years (through multiple planet wide disasters/changes).

And so it would seem that evolution does not necessarily move towards increasing complexity.

Instead, it seems that sometimes evolution selects for stagnation, or even decreasing complexity.

Essentially evolution selects "whatever works best!" rather than "whatever is more complex".

Maybe that's the answer to Fermi's paradox: evolution prefers sponges to humans.

After all: sponges are arguably more stable and will probably be longer lasting!

And so many of these red dwarfs could go on quite happily as peaceful spongy paradises for billions upon billions upon billions of years.

I tend to conclude that since supernova materials are in my bloodstream, that its a supernova near to a planet, that causes life?!

cincy, your comment is a little strange, yes we have material that came from supernovas but we are in a galaxy of moving particles than form, and get blasted all over the place. So the material we are made of could not have been from a recent(4.5 billion year ago) super nova but from older ones and that material has been moving all over the place.

Everyone assumes that a planet may be locked with one side to the red dwarf. But what if the planet has a large moon like our own? Could that make for rotation? Or for tides? Would this make for a planet wide ocean instead of one on the frozen side of a planet?
Then there is the issue of the internal temperature of the ground. If the planet is hot inside the core, would this allow for temperatures stabilized by the ocean? The average temperature of the soil on our planet six feet down is basically 52 degrees. This is a major climate factor balanced by the heat from our Sun. So let us assume that a similar situation is occurring on a planet near a Red Dwarf Star.
That would mean planet wide oceans.
The gravity is also a major factor. No one says the gravity for life has to be earth normal. Just like oceans with pressures much higher than we normally see might not offset the gravity. Depths in our oceans still have existing life at the bottom. Some of which is much larger than normal for the surface waters.
Life on this planet adapts. What if life is universal and it has a common origin? Then we get to life similar to our own. Only adapted to some other environment.
Any life on such a Red Star would be adapted to infrared rather than normal Earth light. Infrared allows seeing things differently. Such as the focus is different in a camera on infrared film. Our star has a different spectrum. So most plant life would have to be adapted to a different spectrum.
The possibilities are endless. We basically have two kinds of life. Animal and plant in balance. Other life may not be set up the same as ours and have a greater range of life.
Longevity. We have life in our oceans that is much longer lived than our own. Doesn't mean they have evolved intelligence. But a possible life form with a very long life could have a much greater science than our own.
We are caught in an unending cycle of life and death. That might not be the case on other planets. We have to learn everything from scratch from schools and books. This other life might be much more advanced in this area than us.
What exactly is life? Where is it originally generated from? Those questions are not very needful here. But in order to study life somewhere else, it becomes very important to know how it originated.


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