Stellar magnetic activity: a key factor for evolution, atmospheres and habitability of terrestrial exoplanets

The Swedish Research Council reached a decision on October 31, 2019 on project grants and starting grants for Natural and Engineering Sciences. The Department of Physics and Astronomy is granted 40 840 000 SEK for the period 2020-2023 for in total nine project grants and three starting grants. The projects will begin during 2020.

Project description

Project title: Stellar magnetic activity: a key factor for evolution, atmospheres and habitability of terrestrial exoplanets
Main applicant: Oleg Kochukhov, Division of Astronomy and Space Physics
Grant amount: 3 255 000 SEK for the period 2020-2023
Funder: Project grant from the Swedish Research Council

Stellar magnetic activity is as a crucial driver of high-energy radiation, winds, and variability in stellar environments. Consequently, stellar magnetism is one of the key factors determining interior structure, atmospheric properties and habitability of terrestrial exoplanets. However, the current lack of direct observational constraints on stellar surface magnetic fields severely impedes the progress in understanding effects of stellar activity on exoplanets.

In this project we will advance the studies of magnetic environments in which terrestrial exoplanets form and live by investigating magnetic fields of active young-Sun analogues and M dwarf stars hosting rocky planets in the habitable zones. A systematic analysis of young solar twins will clarify early phases of the solar magnetic activity and supply crucial input data for modelling the climate and atmospheric chemistry of young Earth. A detailed investigation of the magnetic properties of M dwarf exoplanet hosts will inform studies of the interiors, atmospheres, and habitability of recently discovered Earth-like exoplanets.

Observational data necessary for this project will be obtained using a variety of ground-based facilities including CRIRES – a unique near-infrared spectrometer soon to be installed at one of the 8-m telescopes of the European Southern Observatory. We are playing a leading role in the CRIRES upgrade project and will benefit from an early privileged access to this powerful instrument.