May 5, 2020 - Science

The Sun's relative quiet may have made Earth more friendly for life

The sun.

Photo: NASA/Goddard/SDO

The Sun might be a bit more quiet than other stars of its kind, a feature that potentially makes our planet more friendly to life, according to a new study.

Why it matters: Understanding the Sun in context with other stars being studied today is important to learn more about the history of how our solar system came to be and just how uncommon — or common — life is in the universe.

The intrigue: Bursts of solar plasma and radiation from the Sun can be harmful for astronauts and satellites in space, but if the Sun has always been a more quiet, even-tempered star, it may have helped life to develop on Earth.

What they found: The authors of the new study — published in the journal Science last week — used data from 369 stars with properties like the Sun surveyed by NASA's Kepler Space Telescope between 2009 and 2013.

  • The stars are about the same age as the Sun with similar rotational periods, among other characteristics.
  • According to the study, the Sun appears to be a bit less active — with fewer sunspots and solar flares — than the other stars examined.
  • "We were very surprised that most of the Sun-like stars are so much more active than the Sun," Alexander Shapiro, one of the authors of the study said in a statement.

Yes, but: Just because the Sun is less active than other solar-type stars today doesn't mean that it's always been a quiet, well-behaved star.

  • It's possible this is a quiet period in the Sun's life and it was actually more active in the past and could be in the future.
  • The Sun may also be nearing an age in which it calms down and becomes much quieter than it had been billions of years earlier.
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