Sciency Words: Flare Star

Sciency Words BIO copy

Today’s post is part of a special series here on Planet Pailly called Sciency Words. Each week, we take a closer look at an interesting science or science-related term to help us all expand our scientific vocabularies together. Today’s term is:

FLARE STAR

Good Star Trek fans will remember the Battle of Wolf 359, when the Borg came to assimilate us all. Thirty-nine Federation starships were lost. Nearly 11,000 people were killed. #NeverForget

Good Trekkies may also be aware of the fact that Wolf 359 is a real place. It’s a red dwarf star in the constellation Leo, located within a mere eight light-years from Earth.

Also, Wolf 359 is a UV Ceti variable star, or what is more commonly called a flare star. Flare stars experience dramatic, unpredictable increases in brightness across the EM spectrum, including increases in highly destructive X-ray and gamma ray emissions.

And when a flare star starts to flare up, it can happen quickly. In 1952, the star UV Ceti (for which the UV Ceti variable star category is named) became about 75 times brighter in a period of only twenty seconds.

It’s believed that the flare activity of flare stars is similar to the kind of solar flares we’ve observed on our own Sun. Except the Sun’s solar flares are usually not so intense. And when it comes those X-rays and gamma rays, our Sun doesn’t even come close to what spews out of flare stars.

So perhaps parking thirty-nine starships next to a flare star wasn’t the smartest thing Starfleet could have done. Maybe… just maybe… what happened at Wolf 359 wasn’t the Borg Collective’s fault.

Ag26 Battle of Wolf 359

P.S.: Another flare star has been in the news a lot lately: Proxima Centauri. We now know, thanks to the European Southern Observatory, that Proxima does have an Earth-like planet in orbit. So the next question is just how thoroughly that planet has been cooked by Proxima’s violent flare-ups.

7 Responses to Sciency Words: Flare Star

  1. The interesting thing about the planet Proxima Centauri b is that it is almost certain to be tidally locked with its star, meaning that the flares would only cook one side of the planet, although they might represent trouble for the twilight zone at the border between the light and dark side, where life could conceivably exist.

    Liked by 1 person

    • James Pailly says:

      I agree. It would be weird for a planet with an 11 day orbital period to not be tidally locked. I’m willing to believe life can adapt to just about anything, but I suspect on Proxima b, it would have to be most concentrated in the twilight zone, as you call it.

      Also, teehee… Twilight Zone.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Yep, I thought about the Twilight Zone show when typing that, considered changing it, then decided to go with it.

        You have to wonder what kind of adaptations life might develop when it is subject to unpredictable surges of ionizing radiation. I wonder if it would cause more mutations and increase the rate of evolution.

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  2. […] I doubt it. TRAPPIST-1 is a flare star. We’ve met flare stars before. You don’t want to live near […]

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  3. […] I’m guessing the view would not be quite as epic as what I drew for the illustration above, but still… it would be stunning to see it. Just remember to bring proper radiation gear. TRAPPIST-1 is still a flare star. […]

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  4. So what are the chances any of these solar flares or run away stars have broken away from the galactic core and are hurtling their way forward toward our little world or galaxy? Then we’ll really have to call on the Borg to save us from getting roasted.

    Liked by 1 person

    • J.S. Pailly says:

      It’s possible. Stars do have close fly-bys sometimes, and there’s evidence that our Solar System had a close encounter with another star billions of years ago.

      However, the galaxy is very big, and stars move relatively slowly through space. I imagine if there’s a star heading our way, we’ll probably see it coming at least a few hundred million years before it gets here.

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