Cambridge, Massachusetts – Researchers from Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA) studied the Sun-like star Kappa Ceti and found that Earth was able to be conducive to life thanks to its magnetic field. The electric currents and magnetic materials protected our planet from the Sun’s violent “superflares” when the star was a violent and energetic teenager.

When our Sun was much younger, 4 billion years ago, it released powerful solar winds that could have destroyed the solar system and burned anything on the planets. Scientists said that the star has become more mature and calmer while our magnetosphere is much stronger today.

Scientists discovered that Earth was able to protect itself from ancient and aggressive solar flares thanks to its magnetic field. Credit: Discovery News

“To be habitable, a planet needs warmth, water, and it needs to be sheltered from a young, violent Sun,” affirmed Jose-Dias Do Nascimento of CfA, according to Discovery News.

The paper was published in the journal The Astrophysical Journal Letters. The researchers created a model to show the effects of Kappa Ceti on Earth and measured the frequency of solar flare eruptions the young star produces in order to better understand the history of the solar system’s Sun.

Kappa Ceti is much younger than our Sun is today, which means that it is in its most violent state erupting powerful magnetic activity. It is located in the constellation Cetus, 30 light years away. Astronomers say it is a young star though it has existed for 400 to 600 million years.

Scientists estimate that the studied star ejects 10 to 100 million times more energy than the most powerful solar flare they have ever observed from the Sun. Kappa Ceti’s solar winds are 50 times more powerful than our Sun’s.

A strong magnetic field is essential to survive the winds from a ferocious sun

The only way to survive to such fierce stellar energy is being shielded by a magnetic field. Without it, a planet’s atmosphere could quickly disappear. Mars is a good example of that fate, since the solar flares the once violent Sun erupted caused massive damage and turned the planet into a dry and cold desert.

The red planet did have a magnetic field in its early years but it could have lost it or the protective shield never held onto a strong enough magnetosphere. Mars could not resist the steady erosion of the solar flares and the many solar storms. Its frigid atmosphere, which is 100th the pressure of Earth’s, was unable to nurture complex life forms. However,  efforts are still being made to find at least the most basic microbial life on the red planet’s surface.

Source: Discovery News