M-dwarf habitable planets safer than thought?

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M-dwarf habitable planets safer than thought?

Post by Sirius_Alpha on 8th June 2009, 8:12 pm

M Star Astrosphere Size Fluctuations and Habitable Planet Descreening

Abstract wrote:Stellar astrospheres--the plasma cocoons carved out of the interstellar medium by stellar winds--are continually influenced by their passage through the fluctuating interstellar medium (ISM). Inside dense interstellar regions, an astrosphere may be compressed to a size smaller than the liquid-water habitable zone distance. Habitable planets then enjoy no astrospheric buffering from the full flux of Galactic cosmic rays and interstellar dust and gas, a situation we call ``descreening.'' Recent papers (Yeghikyan and Fahr, Pavlov et al.) have suggested such global consequences as severe ozone depletion and glaciation. Using a ram-pressure balance model that includes gravitational focusing of the interstellar flow, we compute the size of the astrosphere in the apex direction as a function of parent star mass. We derive a dependence on the parent-star mass M due to gravitational focusing for densities larger than about 100 (M/M_\odot)^{-2} cm^{-3}. We calculate the interstellar densities required to descreen planets in the habitable zone of solar- and subsolar-mass stars and find a critical descreening density of roughly 600 (M/M_\odot)^{-2} cm^{-3} for the Sun's velocity relative to the local ISM. Finally, we estimate from ISM observations the frequency of descreening encounters as 1--10 Gyr^{-1} for solar-type stars and 10^2--10^9 times smaller for M stars. Given this disparity, we conclude that M star habitable-zone planets are virtually never exposed to the severe effects discussed by Yeghikyan and Fahr and Pavlov et al.

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