The Sun is both creator and destroyer. The one that can foster life one second and eliminate it the next. Most people are familiar with the harmful and hazardous effects the Sun can have to life on Earth if solar flares and Coronal Mass Ejections, and their associated radiation, are delivered in just the right way and at high enough intensities.
But those same sets of destructive forces could actually have helped jump start and aid the formation of life on Earth. Therefore, searching for solar flares from other stars could provide critical insight into those systems’ potential to support life.
The issue is that solar flares — sudden bright flashes of luminosity near the solar surface in proximity to sunspot groups that release x-rays and streams of highly energetic particles — from other stars are very hard to see given the distances involved.
So if we can’t see solar flares on other stars that easily, scientists examined ways to detect the activity without actually seeing it. As it turns out, this is where sunspots, darkened patches on the Sun’s surface of concentrated magnetic flux, become useful because of what they are almost always precursors to: solar flares.
But even ...