Stellar Winds Spotted on Three Sun-like Stars

by | May 8, 2024, 6:20 AM | Stars & Nebulae

Infrared image of the shockwave (red arc) created by the massive giant star Zeta Ophiuchi in an interstellar dust cloud. The tenuous winds of sun-like main-sequence stars are much more difficult to observe. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech; NASA and The Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA); C. R. O’Dell, Vanderbilt University

Our universe is a dynamic place. We’re on a planet rotating and revolving around a star that’s orbiting around a galaxy. Our Sun is evolving and blasting out a solar wind, as we trail particles and sometimes even asteroids and comets behind in our solar system passage.

We are a messy solar system.

And scientists have been actively looking to see if other stars make similar messes of their surroundings.

Thanks to a new paper appearing in Nature Astronomy and led by Kristina Kislyakova, we can now say yes, other stars do have stellar winds like our Sun, and they can even be more powerful than our Sun’s.

Using the XMM-Newton X-ray observatory, researchers looked at the Sun-like stars in 70 Ophiuchi, epsilon Eridani, and 61 Cygni to see if they could detect the X-ray emissions that would be triggered by particles in the stellar wind interacting with the interstellar medium. Sure enough, all these systems had the predicted emissions, and the emissions were actually stronger than expected! It seems that the added kick is driven by these stars having stronger magnetic fields.

For your amusement, the Sun-like star in epsilon Eridani is linked in Star Trek lore to the planet Vulcan. This means, if you want a more nuanced view, Vulcan would potentially have more aurora than Earth, and it would be getting blasted by more powerful solar winds hitting its atmosphere. To maintain an atmosphere and life, it would have to have a large magnetic field.

May your fiction always come with a side of cool science.