Red sky at night, astrobiologists’ delight!

As may be apparent, I’m rather fond of red dwarf stars. They’re interesting things, and there’s no shortage of them. 78% of stars in the Milky Way comprise a horde of red dwarfs. One of the reasons they’re so populous is that they’re extremely long lived. No red dwarfs have ever died in our Universe, because the Universe isn’t old enough for it to have happened yet. So the Universe should be full of these cantankerous old things which occasionally erupt into huge flares. And seemingly, evidence hints that this really is the case.

A recent study by a research group at Yale University estimates that there are up to three times as many stars in the Universe than was previously thought, due to the huge number of red dwarfs out there. Three times as many. That’s really quite impressive. Studying massive elliptical galaxies, it was found that red dwarfs are hugely populous in them. Elliptical galaxies are generally very red in colour. This is usually attributed to them having a population of old stars, like red giants. But the astronomers found that there’s also a significant number of red dwarfs in these big elliptical galaxies. In fact, giant ellipticals seem to contain twenty times as many red dwarfs as the Milky Way does.

Giant elliptical galaxies hold a certain awe. Hulking beasts which contain stars, the way a puff of smoke contains microscopic smoke particles. If, as I’m a firm advocate of, red dwarfs are capable of sustaining life-bearing planets, then these old galaxies may be teeming with life! To quote Pieter Van Dokkum, one of the scientists involved, “There are possibly trillions of Earths orbiting these stars, since the red dwarfs they have discovered are typically more than 10 billion years old, so have been around long enough for complex life to evolve…”

Trillions of Earths. Trillions of worlds which could support life. Just think about that for a while!

Image credit: Don Dixon. — Go and visit his gallery. It’s wonderful!

About Invader Xan

Molecular astrophysicist, usually found writing frenziedly, staring at the sky, or drinking mojitos.
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