Planet-hunting astronomers might be disappointed to learn that common stellar eruptions, known as coronal mass ejections (CMEs), could have a significant impact on whether or not newly discovered Earth-like exoplanets could in fact support life.
A recent study took information about CMEs in our own solar system and applied it to a cool star system — a popular place to look for planets that could support life in a similar way to Earth. CMEs are a typical aspect of “space weather,” but on a planet that exists closer to its star the effects of CMEs would exponentially increase. And in systems with low mass, cooler stars, habitable zones can be much closer to the star than they are in our solar system. Therein lies the problem.
CMEs can compress a planet’s magnetosphere — the protective magnetic bubble shielding the planet — and thus exposes a planet’s atmosphere and even sweep it away from a planet. This would in effect expose an exoplanet to harmful x-rays from its host star, and definitely have a serious effect on any potential lifeforms.