Bad news if you’re looking to ditch this planet for another one far, far away. According to new research from NASA, planets in the habitable zone in red dwarf star systems—including much-hyped exoplanet Proxima b—might lose too much oxygen to support liquid water, and therefore, life. Goddammit.
Traditionally, scientists have tried to determine habitable zones based on the amount of heat and light the host star gives off. But this new research takes stellar eruptions and the rate of a atmospheric oxygen loss into account to build a more refined picture of where in a star system Earth-like planets may lie. The team developed a model to investigate how the high-energy X-rays and ultraviolet emissions that red dwarfs spew off cause oxygen in habitable zone planet atmospheres to escape into space. This “astmospheric erosion” could spell bad news for fans of Proxima B, the exoplanet located in the red dwarf star system Proxima Centauri less than five light years away. The researchers’ new findings were published on February 6th in The Astrophysical Journal Letters.
“The more X-ray and extreme ultraviolet energy there is, the more electrons are generated and the stronger the ion escape effect becomes,” Alex Glocer, a Goddard astrophysicist and co-author of the paper, said in a press release. “This effect is very sensitive to the amount of energy the star emits, which means it must play a strong role in determining what is and is not a habitable planet.”