Sunspots can reveal more about life on exoplanets, say scientists

A new study now states that sunspots, which are darker, cooler patches on the Sun, can reveal more about the conditions for life on exoplanets.

In the new study, researchers looked at sunspots at a low resolution, which resulted in a simulated view of distant stars. This might help understand stellar activity and the condition for life on planets orbiting other stars.

Shin Toriumi, lead author of the study and a scientist at the Institute of Space and Astronautical Science at JAXA said that they wanted to know what a sunspot region would look like if they couldn’t resolve it in an image. "So, we used the solar data as if it came from a distant star to have a better connection between solar physics and stellar physics," he said in a statement by NASA.

As per NASA, sunspots are often precursors to solar flares and monitoring them could be important towards understanding why and how flares occur.

Understanding the frequency of flares on other stars is one of the keys to understanding their chance of harbouring life. Researchers believe having a few flares may help them build up complex molecules like RNA and DNA from simpler building blocks.

Scientists used high-resolution data of the Sun from NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory and JAXA/NASA’s Hinode mission. By adding up all the light in each image, the scientists converted them into single data points. By joining these data points, scientists created plots of how the light changed as the sunspot passed across the Sun’s rotating face. These plots, which scientists call light curves, showed what a passing sunspot on the Sun would look like if it were many light-years away.

The co-author of the study, Vladimir Airapetian stated that by using solar observing satellites they were able to resolve signatures on the surface 100 miles wide.

The new study was published in the Astrophysical Journal and found that light curves differed when they measured different wavelengths. Researchers also observed light curves in x-ray and ultraviolet light, which show the atmosphere above the sunspots.

As per study authors, by studying stellar activity on young stars, in particular, scientists can help get a view of what our young Sun may have been like. This will help them understand how a young Sun impacted Venus, Earth and Mars in their early days.



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