Forecasting Life: A Study of Activity Cycles in Low-Mass Stars

Lessons from Long-Term Stellar Light Curves


Magnetic activity cycles are indirect traces of magnetic fields and can provide an insight on the nature and action of stellar dynamos and stellar magnetic activity. This, in turn, can determine local space weather and activity effects on stellar habitable zones. Using photometric monitoring of low-mass stars, we study the presence and properties of their magnetic activity cycles. We introduce long-term light curves of our sample stars, and discuss the properties of the observed trends, especially at spectral types where stars are fully convective (later than M3).


Active stars Magnetic activity Activity cycles; Low-mass stars Habitable zone Space weather 



I would like to thank two anonymous referees for their carefully reviewing of this manuscript and for providing useful comments for its improvement. This work is supported by a NASA Astrobiology Institute Postoctoral fellowship. This research has made use of the SIMBAD database, operated at CDS, Strasbourg, France.


  1. Albrecet R, Maitzen HM, Rakos KD (1969) The Sun as a variable star. Astron Astrophys 3:236–242Google Scholar
  2. Baliunas SL, Vaughan AH (1985) Stellar activity cycles. Annu Rev Astron Astrophys 23:379–412CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Basu D (1980) Randomization analysis of experimental data: the Fisher randomization test. J Am Stat Assoc 75:575–582Google Scholar
  4. Donati J-F, Landstreet JD (2009) Magnetic fields of nondegenerate stars. Annu Rev Astron Astrophys 47:333–370CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Haghighipour N (2006) Dynamical stability and habitability of the γ Cephei binary-planetary system. Astrophys J 644:543–550CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Haghighipour N, Raymond SN (2007) Habitable planet formation in binary planetary systems. Astrophys J 666:436–446CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Holzwarth V, Schussler M (2003a) Dynamics of magnetic flux tubes in close binary stars. I. Equilibrium and stability properties. Astron Astrophys 405:303–311CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Holzwarth V, Schussler M (2003b) Dynamics of magnetic flux tubes in close binary stars. I. Equilibrium and stability properties. Astron Astrophys 405:291–301CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Ida S, Lin DNC (2005) Toward a deterministic model of planetary formation. III. Mass distribution of short-period planets around stars of various masses. Astrophys J 626:1045–1060CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Lammer H (2007) M star planet habitability. Astrobiology 7:27–29CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Lean J (1997) The Sun’s variable radiation and its relevance for Earth. Annu Rev Astron Astrophys 35:33–67CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Lee RBIII, Gibson MA, Shivakumar N, Wilson R, Kyle HL, Mecherikunnel AT (1991) Solar irradiance measurements—minimum through maximum solar activity. Metrologia 28:265–268CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Olah K (2007) The Influence of binarity on stellar activity, binary stars as critical tools & tests in contemporary astrophysics. In: Hartkopf WI, Guinan EF, Harmanec P (eds) IAU Symp #240. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, pp 442–452Google Scholar
  14. Olah K, Kollath Z (1999) Rotation and cycle lengths of active stars, solar and stellar activity: similarities and differences. In: Butler CJ, Doyle JG (eds) ASP Conference Series 158, pp 174–177Google Scholar
  15. Parker EN (1955) Hydromagnetic dynamo models. Astrophys J 122:293–314CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Pojmanski G (1997) The all sky automated survey. Acta Astronom 47:467–481Google Scholar
  17. Pojmanski G (2002) The all sky automated survey. Catalog of variable stars. I. 0 h–6 h Quarter of the Southern Hemisphere. Acta Astronom 52:397–427Google Scholar
  18. Reid N, Hawley S (2005) New light on dark stars : red dwarfs, low-mass stars, brown dwarfs, ed. Springer-Praxis books in astrophysics and astronomy. Praxis Publishing Ltd, ISBN 3-540-25124-3Google Scholar
  19. Scargle JD (1982) Studies in astronomical time series analysis. II—statistical aspects of spectral analysis of unevenly spaced data. Astrophys J 263:835–853CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Segura A, Kasting JF, Meadows V, Cohen M, Scalo J, Crisp D, Butler AH, Tinetti G (2005) Biosignatures from Earth-like planets around M Dwarfs. Astrobiology 5:706–725PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Selsis F, Kasting JF, Levrard B, Paillet J, Ribas I, Delfosse X (2007) Habitable planets around the star Gliese 581. Astron Astrophys 476:1373–1387CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Tarter JC, Backus PR, Mancinelli RL, Aurnou JM, Backman DE, Basri GS, Boss AP, Clarke A, Deming D, Doyle LR, Feigelson ED, Freund F, Grinspoon DH, Haberle RM, Hauck SAII, Heath MJ, Henry TJ, Hollingsworth JL, Joshi MM, Kilston S, Liu MC, Meikle E, Reid IN, Rothschild LJ, Scalo J, Segura A, Tang CM, Tiedje JM, Turnbull MC, Walkowicz LM, Weber AL, Young RE (2007) A reappraisal of the habitability of planets around M Dwarf stars. Astrobiology 7:30–65PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Turnbull MC, Tarter JC (2003) Target selection for SETI. I. A catalog of nearby habitable stellar systems. Astrophys J Suppl S 145:181–198CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. West AA, Hawley SL, Bochanski JJ, Covey KR, Reid IN, Dhital S, Hilton EJ, Masuda M (2008) Constraining the age-activity relation for cool stars: the sloan digital sky survey data release 5 low-mass star spectroscopic sample. Astron J 135:785–795CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Wilson OC (1978) Chromospheric variations in main-sequence stars. Astrophys J 226:379–396CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.NASA Astrobiology Institute, Department of Terrestrial MagnetismCarnegie Institution of WashingtonWashingtonUSA

Personalised recommendations