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Current Affairs

Sunspots help understand life around other stars

Date: 12 October 2020 Tags: Space

Issue

A new study has shown how sunspots - which are relatively cooler and darker patches on the Sun - can help us understand more about conditions for life on exo-planets.

 

Background

Sunspots are temporary phenomena on the Sun's photosphere that appear as spots darker than the surrounding areas. They are regions of reduced surface temperature caused by concentrations of magnetic field flux that inhibit convection.

 

Details

  • As sunspots are precursors to solar flares, monitoring them can help decode how and why flares occur.

  • On young stars, superflares happen almost daily, whereas, on more mature ones like our Sun, they may occur once in 1,000 years.

  • A few flares may help in building RNA and DNA on planets whereas too many strong flares can damage the atmosphere, thus turning the planet uninhabitable.

  • High-resolution data of the Sun from NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory and JAXA/NASA’s Hinode mission was used for the study.

  • The team studied the different layers of the Sun using 14 different wavelengths including visible, ultraviolet (UV), and X-rays.

  • Putting all the data together, the team created a plot which they named light curves which showed how the light changed as the sunspot passed across the Sun’s rotating face.

  • Even though NASA and JAXA missions have continually gathered observations of the Sun for over a decade, these cases are quite rare. 

  • By studying stellar activity on young stars in particular, scientists can have a view of what our young Sun may have been like.

  • This will help scientists understand how the young Sun, which was overall more dim but active and impacted Venus, Earth, and Mars in their early days.

  • Studying stellar activity could also help explain the beginning of life on Earth four billion years ago. Many scientists have suggested that intense solar activity may have been a trigger.