October 25, 2011

Suppression of the water ice and snow albedo feedback on planets orbiting red dwarf stars and the subsequent widening of the habitable zone

Red dwarf stars are 80% of all main sequence stars and recent work suggests that their habitable zone is 30% larger than previously thought.

Arxiv - M-stars comprise 80% of main-sequence stars, and so their planetary systems provide the best chance for finding habitable planets, i.e.: those with surface liquid water. We have modelled the broadband albedo or reflectivity of water ice and snow for simulated planetary surfaces orbiting two observed red dwarf stars (or M-stars) using spectrally resolved data of the Earth's cryosphere. The gradual reduction of the albedos of snow and ice at wavelengths greater than 1 ?m, combined with M-stars emitting a significant fraction of their radiation at these same longer wavelengths, mean that the albedos of ice and snow on planets orbiting M-stars are much lower than their values on Earth. Our results imply that the ice/snow albedo climate feedback is significantly weaker for planets orbiting M-stars than for planets orbiting G-type stars such as the Sun. In addition, planets with significant ice and snow cover will have significantly higher surface temperatures for a given stellar flux if the spectral variation of cryospheric albedo is considered, which in turn implies that the outer edge of the habitable zone around M-stars may be 10-30% further away from the parent star than previously thought.

20 page pdf of the paper

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