Too Hot To Handle: Planets in the Habitable Zones of Low Mass Stars May Be Roasted Early On

UWAB graduate student Rodrigo Luger and Professor Rory Barnes have shown that many terrestrial planets in the habitable zones of low mass (M dwarf) stars could have experienced extreme stellar heating for up to 1 billion years after planet formation. This heating arises because M dwarfs evolve differently than the Sun — they contract and cool for a much longer period of time. As they cool, the habitable zone moves in and so planets we find in the habitable zone today may have spent up to 1 billion years in a Venus-like state. During this period, destruction of water by UV radiation and hydrogen escape to space could ultimately build up massive abiotic oxygen atmospheres.