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Evryscope and K2 Constraints on TRAPPIST-1 Superflare Occurrence and Planetary Habitability

Published onJun 01, 2020
Evryscope and K2 Constraints on TRAPPIST-1 Superflare Occurrence and Planetary Habitability

The nearby ultracool dwarf TRAPPIST-1 possesses several Earth-sized terrestrial planets, three of which have equilibrium temperatures that may support liquid surface water, making it a compelling target for exoplanet characterization. TRAPPIST-1 is an active star with frequent flaring, with implications for the habitability of its planets. Superflares (stellar flares whose energy exceeds 1033 erg) can completely destroy a cool star's planets' atmospheres, allowing ultraviolet radiation and high-energy particles to bombard their surfaces. However, ultracool dwarves emit little ultraviolet flux when quiescent, raising the possibility of frequent flares being necessary for prebiotic chemistry that requires ultraviolet light. We combine Evryscope and Kepler observations to characterize the high-energy flare rate of TRAPPIST-1. The Evryscope is an array of 22 small telescopes imaging the entire Southern sky in g' every two minutes. Evryscope observations, spanning 170 nights over 2 years, complement the 80-day continuous short-cadence K2 observations by sampling TRAPPIST-1's long-term flare activity. We update TRAPPIST-1's superflare rate, finding a cumulative rate of 4.2+1.9-0.2 superflares per year. We calculate the flare rate necessary to deplete ozone in the habitable-zone planets' atmospheres, and find that TRAPPIST-1's flare rate is insufficient to deplete ozone if present on its planets. In addition, we calculate the flare rate needed to provide enough ultraviolet flux to power prebiotic chemistry. We find TRAPPIST-1's flare rate is likely insufficient to catalyze some of the Earthlike chemical pathways thought to lead to RNA synthesis, and flux due to flares in the biologically relevant UV-B band is orders of magnitude less for any TRAPPIST-1 planet than has been experienced by Earth at any time in its history.

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