NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory will monitor the habitability of exoplanets

NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory will monitor the habitability of exoplanets

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The search for extraterrestrial life continues faithfully. Astronomers using NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory and ESA’s XMM-Newton are contributing new research to the search, hoping to lay the foundation for future projects. Researchers are using Chandra to study radiation from nearby stars to determine whether an exoplanet orbiting these stars could be habitable. X-rays and ultraviolet radiation in high concentrations can damage an exoplanet’s atmosphere, reducing the chances of life (as we know it).

This image shows a 3D map of stars close to the Sun. These stars are so close that they could be good targets for direct image searches for planets with future telescopes. The blue halos represent stars observed by NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory and the European Space Agency’s XMM-Newton Observatory. The yellow star in the center of this chart represents the position of the sun.

The concentric rings indicate distances of 5, 10, and 15 parsecs (one parsec is equivalent to about 3.2 light-years). Astronomers use this X-ray data to determine how habitable exoplanets are, based on whether they receive lethal radiation from the stars they orbit, as explained in our latest press release. This type of research will help make observations using the next generation of telescopes that will provide the first images of planets like Earth. The researchers examined stars close enough to Earth that telescopes that will become operational within the next decade or two — including the Observatory of Habitable Worlds in space and the Extremely Large Telescopes on Earth — can image planets in the so-called “habitable world.” Star regions. This term defines the orbits in which planets can have liquid water on their surfaces.

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There are many factors that determine whether a planet is suitable for life as we know it. One such factor is the amount of harmful X-rays and ultraviolet radiation it receives, which can damage or even wipe out the planet’s atmosphere. Based on X-ray observations of some of these stars as well as Chandra and XMM-Newton data, the research team investigated which stars might have suitable conditions for planets orbiting them, allowing life to form and flourish. They studied how bright stars are in X-rays, how active X-rays are, and how much and how quickly X-rays change, for example due to solar flares. Brighter, more energetic X-rays can do more damage to planetary atmospheres.

The researchers used approximately 10 days of Chandra observations and about 26 days of archived XMM observations to examine the X-ray behavior of 57 nearby stars, some of which have known planets. Most of these planets are giant planets such as Jupiter, Saturn or Neptune, while only a few planets or planet candidates are less than approximately twice the mass of Earth. These results were presented at the 244th meeting of the American Astronomical Society in Madison, Wisconsin, by Brenna Bender (California Polytechnic State University, Pomona). NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center manages the Chandra program. The Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory’s Chandra X-ray Center manages science from Cambridge, Massachusetts and flight operations from Burlington, Massachusetts.

source: NASA

Winton Frazier

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