The research team is the first to combine 3D climate modeling with atmospheric chemistry to investigate the possibility of living on planets around the stars of the Dwarfs, which make up about 70% of the total galaxy population.
To its knowledge, the Northwest team, in collaboration with researchers from the University of Colorado Boulder, NASA's Virtual Planet Lab, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, has discovered that only planets orbiting active stars – those emitting much ultraviolet light (UV) lost significant water to evaporation.
Planets around inactive or quiet stars are more likely to retain life-sustaining liquid water.
Researchers have also found that planets with thin ozone layers, which have an acceptable surface temperature, receive dangerous levels of UV doses, making them dangerous to the complex life of the surface.
"Only in recent years have we had the tools of modeling and injecting technology to solve this issue," said Howard Chen of the Northwest, the first author of the study.
"However, there are many stars and planets out there, which means there are many goals," added Daniel Horton, senior author of the study. "Our study can help limit the number of places we need to point our telescopes."
The research is published in the Astrophysical Journal.
Horton and Chen look outside our solar system to map possible zones within the dwarf star's systems.
Planets of M dwarfs have emerged as predators in the search for planets that can be sustained.
They get their name from the small, cool, dark stars they orbit around, called M dwarfs or "red dwarfs".
By combining 3D modeling of climate with photochemistry and atmospheric chemistry, Horton and Chen constructed a more complete picture of how the star's UV radiation communicates with gases, including water vapor and ozone, in the atmosphere of the planet.
Instruments, such as the Hubble Space Telescope and the James Webb Space Telescope, are capable of detecting water vapor and ozone on exoplanets. They just need to know where to look.
"Are we alone?" "is one of the biggest unanswered questions," Chen said. "If we can predict which planets are likely to live, then we may come close to responding within our own lives."