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Snarling Wolf

Wolf 359 likes to snarl. The star produces huge outbursts of energy. That could be a problem for life on any planets that orbit the star.

Wolf 359 is one of our closest neighbors — less than eight light-years away. Only a few star systems are closer.

Other than those big outbursts, the star is amazingly meek. It’s less than one-tenth as massive as the Sun, and just one-tenth of one percent as bright.

But Wolf 359 generates a powerful magnetic field. Lines of magnetic force can tangle, then snap. That produces a flare — a powerful outburst of X-rays and gamma rays.

A recent study says the star probably produces outbursts as strong as anything ever seen from the Sun several times a day. And once a month or so, it can produce an outburst up to a hundred times stronger: a super-flare.

Astronomers have found evidence of two planets orbiting the star. Neither is likely to be a home for life. But if there are planets in the right location for life, the flares could be a problem. They could heat up and erode some of a planet’s atmosphere, and deliver a good jolt of energy to the surface. A planet might be able to handle the flares. But the flares wouldn’t make it any easier for life around this tiny star.

Wolf 359 is in Leo, which is high in the eastern sky at dawn. The star is well below Regulus, the lion’s bright heart. But despite all the snarling, you need a telescope to see this close neighbor.

Script by Damond Benningfield

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