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Radiation blasts stripped life on most Earth-like planets

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London: Most of Earth-like planets could have been rendered uninhabitable by massive radiation blasts, new research has found.

The atmosphere of the planet, Kepler-438b, is thought to have been stripped away as a result of radiation emitted from a superflaring Red Dwarf star, Kepler-438.

Regularly occurring every few hundred days, the superflares are approximately 10 times more powerful than those ever recorded on the Sun.

While superflares themselves are unlikely to have a significant impact on Kepler-438b’s atmosphere, a dangerous phenomenon associated with powerful flares, known as a coronal mass ejection (CME), has the potential to strip away any atmosphere and render it uninhabitable, the researchers from University of Warwick in Britain noted.

The planet Kepler-438b, to date the exoplanet with the highest recorded Earth Similarity Index, is both similar in size and temperature to the Earth but is in closer proximity to the Red Dwarf than the Earth is to the Sun.

Unlike the Earth’s relatively quiet sun, Kepler-438 emits strong flares every few hundred days, each one stronger than the most powerful recorded flare on the Sun.

“It is likely that these flares are associated with coronal mass ejections, which could have serious damaging effects on the habitability of the planet,” said lead researcher Dr David Armstrong from University of Warwick’s astrophysics group.

If the planet, Kepler-438b, has a magnetic field like the Earth, it may be shielded from some of the effects.

“However, if it does not, or the flares are strong enough, it could have lost its atmosphere, be irradiated by extra dangerous radiation and be a much harsher place for life to exist,” he added.

Coronal mass ejections are where a huge amount of plasma is hurled outwards from the Sun, and there is no reason why they should not occur on other active stars as well.

Large coronal mass ejections have the potential to strip away any atmosphere that a close-in planet like Kepler-438b might have, rendering it uninhabitable.

“With little atmosphere, the planet would also be subject to harsh UV and X-ray radiation from the superflares, along with charged particle radiation, all of which are damaging to life,” the authors noted.

The research was published in the journal Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.