Exoplanets & Exomoons

Potential of Planets Orbiting Red Dwarf Stars to Support Oxygenic Photosynthesis and Complex Life

By Keith Cowing
Press Release
October 14, 2015
Filed under
Potential of Planets Orbiting Red Dwarf Stars to Support Oxygenic Photosynthesis and Complex Life

Focusing on planets orbiting Red Dwarf (RD) stars, the most abundant stellar type, we show that including RDs as potential host stars could increase the probability of finding biotic planets by a factor of up to a thousand, and reduce the estimate of the distance to our nearest biotic neighbor by up to 10.

We argue that binary and multiple star systems need to be taken into account when discussing exoplanet habitability. Early considerations indicated that conditions on RD planets would be inimical to life, as their Habitable Zones (where liquid water could exist) would be so close as to make planets tidally locked to their star.

This was thought to cause an erratic climate and expose life forms to flares of ionizing radiation. Recent calculations show that these negative factors are less severe than originally thought. It has been argued that the lesser photon energy of the radiation of the relatively cool RDs would not suffice for Oxygenic Photosynthesis (OP) and other related energy expending reactions. Numerous authors suggest that OP on RD planets may evolve to utilize photons in the infrared. We however argue, by analogy to the evolution of OP and the environmental physiology and distribution of land-based vegetation on Earth, that the evolutionary pressure to utilize infrared radiation would be small.

This is because vegetation on RD planets could enjoy continuous illumination of moderate intensity, containing a significant component of photosynthetic 400-700 nm radiation. We conclude that conditions for OP could exist on RD planets and consequently the evolution of complex life might be possible. Furthermore, the huge number and the long lifetime of RDs make it more likely to find planets with photosynthesis and life around RDs than around solar type stars.

Joseph Gale, Amri Wandel
(Submitted on 12 Oct 2015)

Comments: 23 pages, 7 figures, accepted for publication by the International Journal of Astrobiology
Subjects: Earth and Planetary Astrophysics (astro-ph.EP)
Cite as: arXiv:1510.03484 [astro-ph.EP] (or arXiv:1510.03484v1 [astro-ph.EP] for this version)
Submission history
From: Amri Wandel
[v1] Mon, 12 Oct 2015 23:42:16 GMT (683kb)

Explorers Club Fellow, ex-NASA Space Station Payload manager/space biologist, Away Teams, Journalist, Lapsed climber, Synaesthete, Na’Vi-Jedi-Freman-Buddhist-mix, ASL, Devon Island and Everest Base Camp veteran, (he/him) 🖖🏻