Credit: X-ray: NASA/CXC/Penn State Univ./K. Getman et al.; Infrared: ESA/NASA JPL-Caltech/Herschel Space Observatory/JPL/IPAC; NASA JPL-Caltech/SSC/Spitzer Space Telescope; Optical: MPG/ESO/G. Beccari;
Astronomers have made the most extensive study yet of how magnetically active stars are when they are young. This gives scientists a window into how X-rays from stars like the Sun, but billions of years younger, could partially or completely evaporate the atmospheres of planets orbiting them.
Many stars begin their lives in “open clusters,” loosely packed groups of stars with up to a few thousand members, all formed roughly at the same time. This makes open clusters valuable for astronomers investigating the evolution of stars and planets, because they allow the study of many stars of similar ages forged in the same environment.
A team of astronomers led by Konstantin Getman of Penn State University studied a sample of over 6,000 stars in 10 different open clusters with ages between 7 million and 25 million years. One of the goals of this study was to learn how the magnetic activity levels of stars like our Sun change during the first tens of millions of years after they form. Getman and his colleagues used NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory for this study because stars that have more activity linked to magnetic fields are brighter in X-rays.