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Stellar coronal mass ejections (CMEs) may play an important role in stellar and planetary evolution, therefore the knowledge on parameter distributions of this energetic activity phenomenon is highly relevant. During the last years several attempts have been made to detect stellar CMEs of late-type main-sequence and pre main-sequence stars from dedicated optical spectroscopic observations. Up to now only a handful of distinct stellar CME detections are known which contradicts the results from stellar CME modelling, which predict higher CME rates. We report on dedicated ongoing and future observational attempts to detect stellar CMEs and discuss the observational results with respect to the results from stellar CME modelling.
Thousands of planets outside the Solar system have been discovered, with exoplanets in different environments. Since we cannot expect to find an exoplanetary system fully resembling our Solar System, we consider a Solar System type configuration where the Earth moves in an eccentric orbit. We focus on young Earth 1 billion years ago, when the Sun’s extreme UV (EUV) flux was about 5 times higher than the current radiation. In case of eccentric motion of Earth, strong variations of the EUV flux would influence the evolution of the planet’s atmosphere (EUV radiation of 50 times the current EUV flux would be possible). Taking into account a certain amount of Nitrogen in the atmosphere of such a young Earth, we study the non-thermal loss of N2 over a long time interval. We therefore investigate to what extent eccentric motion will influence the conditions of habitability of a terrestrial planet.
CMEs are large-scale magnetized plasma structures carrying billions of tons of material that erupt from a star and propagate in the stellar heliosphere, interacting in multiple ways with the stellar wind. Due to the high speed, intrinsic magnetic field and the increased plasma density compared to the stellar wind background, CMEs can produce strong effects on planetary environments when they collide with a planet. The main planetary impact factors of CMEs, are associated interplanetary shocks, energetic particles accelerated in the shock regions, and the magnetic field disturbances. All these factors should be taken into account during the study of evolutionary processes on exoplanets and their atmospheric and plasma environments. CME activity of a star may vary depending on stellar age, stellar spectral type and the orbital distance of a planet. Because of relatively short range of propagation of majority of CMEs, they impact most strongly the magnetospheres and atmospheres of close orbit (< 0.1 AU) exoplanets.
The intense stellar SXR and EUV radiation exposure at “Hot Jupiters” causes profound responses to their upper atmosphere structures. Thermospheric temperatures can reach several thousands of Kelvins, which result in dissociation of H2 to H and ionization of H to H+. Depending on the density and orbit location of the exoplanet, as a result of these high temperatures the thermosphere expands dynamically up to the Roche lobe, so that geometric blow-off with large mass loss rates and intense interaction with the stellar wind plasma can occur. UV transit observations together with advanced numerical models can be used to gain knowledge on stellar plasma and the planet's magnetic properties, as well as the upper atmosphere.
The science of extra-solar planets is one of the most rapidly changing areas of astrophysics and since 1995 the number of planets known has increased by almost two orders of magnitude. A combination of ground-based surveys and dedicated space missions has resulted in 560-plus planets being detected, and over 1200 that await confirmation. NASA's Kepler mission has opened up the possibility of discovering Earth-like planets in the habitable zone around some of the 100,000 stars it is surveying during its 3 to 4-year lifetime. The new ESA's Gaia mission is expected to discover thousands of new planets around stars within 200 parsecs of the Sun. The key challenge now is moving on from discovery, important though that remains, to characterisation: what are these planets actually like, and why are they as they are?
In the past ten years, we have learned how to obtain the first spectra of exoplanets using transit transmission and emission spectroscopy. With the high stability of Spitzer, Hubble, and large ground-based telescopes the spectra of bright close-in massive planets can be obtained and species like water vapour, methane, carbon monoxide and dioxide have been detected. With transit science came the first tangible remote sensing of these planetary bodies and so one can start to extrapolate from what has been learnt from Solar System probes to what one might plan to learn about their faraway siblings. As we learn more about the atmospheres, surfaces and near-surfaces of these remote bodies, we will begin to build up a clearer picture of their construction, history and suitability for life.
The Exoplanet Characterisation Observatory, EChO, will be the first dedicated mission to investigate the physics and chemistry of Exoplanetary Atmospheres. By characterising spectroscopically more bodies in different environments we will take detailed planetology out of the Solar System and into the Galaxy as a whole.
EChO has now been selected by the European Space Agency to be assessed as one of four M3 mission candidates.
The European Astrobiology Network Association (EANA) coordinates and promotes astrobiology in the 17 European countries that are member of the organization. Astrobiology includes the study of the origin, evolution and distribution of life in the Universe. It is a multi-disciplinary science that encompasses the disciplines of chemistry, biology, palaeontology, geology, atmospheric physics, planetary physics and stellar physics. The open questions to be addressed and the steps ahead in cosmochemistry, star and planet formation, the chemistry of life's origin, the study of bacterial life as a reference and the search for habitats and biosignatures beyond the Earth are presented.
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