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January 10, 2011 01:00 PM (EST)

News Release Number: STScI-2011-02

NASA's Hubble Finds that Puny Stars Pack a Big Punch

An American Astronomical Society Meeting Release

January 10, 2011: A survey of more than 200,000 stars in our Milky Way galaxy has unveiled the sometimes petulant behavior of tiny dwarf stars. These stars, which are smaller than the Sun, can unleash powerful eruptions called flares that may release the energy of more than 100 million atomic bombs. Red dwarfs are the most abundant stars in our universe and are presumably hosts to numerous planets. However, their erratic behavior could make life unpleasant, if not impossible, for many alien worlds. The flares the stars unleash would blast any planets orbiting them with ultraviolet light, bursts of X-rays, and a gush of charged particles called a stellar wind.

Studying the light from 215,000 dwarfs collected in observations by NASA's Hubble Space Telescope, astronomers found 100 stellar flares. The observations, taken over a seven-day period, constitute the largest continuous monitoring of red dwarf stars ever undertaken. The illustration shows a red dwarf star unleashing a powerful flare. A hypothetical planet is in the foreground.

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Artwork Credit: NASA, ESA, and G. Bacon (STScI)

Science Credit: NASA, ESA, A. Kowalski (University of Washington), R. Osten and K. Sahu (STScI), and S. Hawley (University of Washington)