Are Red Dwarf Planets Habitable?

Most of the news about exoplanets this past year has revolved around the discovery of “Earth-sized” planets in the “habitable zone” of "red dwarf" stars. This is partly due to the fact that such planets are more easily found, partly because most stars are red dwarfs (cooler and smaller than the Sun), and partly because smaller stars apparently tend to have smaller planets. Further factors in their favor are the fact that red dwarfs are very common and live a very long time in a stable phase, and apparently smaller planets are more abundant around them. Dr Basri will talk about these discoveries and give a background on red dwarfs.

Most of the talk concentrates on the current thinking about whether a planet around a red dwarf could, in fact, actually harbor earth-like life. This question is still a very active one; 15 years ago most astronomers would have just answered “no”. He’ll explain why, and how our thinking is evolving. Problems with habitable zone red dwarf planets include tidal locking, strong stellar flare activity, and potential removal of large volumes of water by stellar UV emission (especially since the pre-main sequence phase is much longer for red dwarfs, which will keep the eventually temperate planet too hot for hundreds of millions of years). He will suggest potential ways around all these problems. He will also discuss whether the usual concept of "habitable zone" is too restrictive.

Speaker: Dr. Gibor Basri, UC Berkeley

Friday, 11/03/17


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