Artistic illustration of a M Dwarf Star. YAYIMAGES.

This Newly-Found Exoplanet Could Redefine How We Search for Alien Life

Astronomers have identified an exoplanet orbiting an M Dwarf, the most common type of star in the universe.


An Earth-like planet with no atmosphere has been discovered orbiting an M dwarf. These stars are the most common type of star in the universe. Extraterrestrial life and how we look for it could be radically changed by this discovery. During a single day on Earth, the planet GJ 1252b orbits its star twice. Due to its proximity to its star, GJ 1252b is considerably warmer and inhospitable compared to the Earth. Michelle Hill, an astrophysicist at UCR and a co-author of the study, said that the radiation pressure from the star is immense. In fact, it is so strong it blows away the planet’s atmosphere. Likewise, Earth loses some atmosphere through the Sun, but volcanic emissions and other carbon cycle processes help to replenish that loss over time.

Like Mercury

Planets that are closer to a star, however, can no longer replenish the amount lost. Mercury is the victim of this fate in our solar system. A thin atmosphere is present, composed of atoms that are ripped from its surface by the Sun. As a result of the extreme temperature of the planet, these atoms escape into space. During a secondary eclipse, astronomers measured the planet’s infrared radiation to determine GJ 1252b lacks an atmosphere. An eclipse of this type occurs when a planet passes behind a star. This causes light reflected from the planet and the planet’s star to be blocked. On this planet, gold, silver, and copper would melt because of the scorching daytime temperatures estimated at 2,242 degrees Fahrenheit (1,227 degrees Celsius). Researchers concluded that there is no atmosphere due to the heat and low pressure at the surface.


No luck, atmosphere

GJ 1252b would be unable to retain an atmosphere even if it had a lot of heat-trapping carbon dioxide. Astrophysicist Stephen Kane of UCR, one of the co-authors on the study, explained that the planet could have 700 times more carbon than Earth, with no atmosphere yet present. Carbon would accumulate initially but then subside and erode. In addition, M dwarf stars tend to be more active and flare than the Sun. This makes it more difficult for planets near them to retain their atmospheres. According to Hill, planets farther away from the type of star could be affected by the same condition as this one. James Webb’s space telescope will observe planets like these, so we will be able to learn about this in the future.

Lots of M Dwarfs

Since M dwarfs are so prevalent, they are likely to host many planets without atmospheres. This means no life will be found on them. At least not the kind of life we are accustomed to. In spite of this, astronomers remain optimistic. Despite the fact that planets orbiting them can be ruled out entirely, there are still approximately 1,000 stars similar to our sun that may have habitable planets. Hill acknowledged that rocky planets around M dwarf stars are not necessarily reduced to the fate of Mercury if they are sufficiently far from the dwarfs. A study detailing the discoveries has been published in the Astrophysical Journal Letters.


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Written by Ivan Petricevic

I've been writing passionately about ancient civilizations, history, alien life, and various other subjects for more than eight years. You may have seen me appear on Discovery Channel's What On Earth series, History Channel's Ancient Aliens, and Gaia's Ancient Civilizations among others.

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