A team of astrobiologists supported in part by the NASA Exobiology Program has created a model to better understand how ‘superflares’ from young, solar-type stars could affect the habitability of planets in orbit.

The habitability of the Earth is intrinsically linked to our star, the Sun. The Sun bathes the Earth in energy, which ultimately supports a large portion of Earth’s biosphere and also keeps the planet at a temperature suitable for liquid water to persist at the surface. However, the Sun can also release large bursts of energy in the form of solar flares or Coronal Mass Ejections (CMEs). If these bursts of energy are exceptionally strong, and are pointed at the Earth, they can damage technology like satellites in orbit and could even be damaging for life at the surface.

Some stars in the Universe experience ‘superflares,’ which can release far more energy that even the largest solar flares from the Sun. Superflares are not uncommon, and were witnessed numerous times by the Kepler space telescope.

The team of researchers used numerical modeling to better understand how an eruptive superflare would impact the atmosphere of a planet orbiting the young solar-type star, κ1Cet. The results indicate that a global, eruptive superflare could have profound effects on the habitability of any planets that might orbit the star. Studying the occurrence of superflares on young, active stars and how they affect their local space environment is important for astrobiologists searching for habitable exoplanets. This information can help scientists select which systems to focus on using the next generation of powerful telescopes.

The research also has implications beyond astrobiology. Understanding space weather could be important in ensuring the safety of future human explorers as NASA’s Artemis program moves forward with human exploration of the Moon.

The study, “Modeling a Carrington-scale Stellar Superflare and Coronal Mass Ejection from κ1Cet,” was published in the Astrophysical Journal. The work was supported by NASA Astrobiology through the Exobiology Program.