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This dim star lies about 10.9 light-years (ly) away in the northeastern corner (11:47:44.40+00:48:16.43, ICRS 2000.0) of Constellation Virgo, the Maiden -- south of Zavijava (Beta Virginis). It is too faint to be seen with the naked eye. The star was discovered in 1925 by Frank Elmore Ross (1874-1960), who also took the first good infrared and ultraviolet photographs of Venus in 1923. Ross first reported on this star in his "Second List of New Proper-Motion Stars," Astronomical Journal (36:856).
This cool and dim, main sequence red dwarf (M4.1 Vn) has almost a third of Sol's mass, a tenth of its diameter, but only 33/100,000th of its luminosity. (Another reference suggests a tenth of Sol's mass, a fifth of its diameter, and 23/100,000 of its luminosity). Ross 128 would be only one of many unremarkable stars except that it appears to be a flare star as well as one of Sol's closest neighbors. In contrast to Proxima Centauri which is a "magnetically younger" flare star that is "activity saturated", however, Ross 128 is considered to be a more "evolved" flare star where its flare rate may have decreased somewhat with increased magnetic evolution (Andrew Skumanich, 1986). Moreover, dust has been detected around the star. It's variable star designation is FI Virginis, but other useful catalogue numbers include: FI Vir, Gl 447, Hip 57548, G 10-50, LHS 315, LTT 13240, and LFT 852.
Life Around a Flare Star
Many dim, red (M) dwarf stars exhibit unusually violent flare activity for their size and brightness. These flare stars are actually common because red dwarfs make up more than half of all stars in the galaxy. Although flares do occur on our Sun every so often, the amount of energy released in a solar flare is small compared to the total amount of energy Sol produces. However, a flare the size of a solar flare occurring on a red dwarf star (such as Ross 128) that is more than ten thousand times dimmer than our Sun would emit about as much or more light as the red dwarf itself, doubling its brightness or more.
Flare stars erupt sporadically, with successive flares spaced anywhere from an hour to a few days apart. A flare only takes a a few minutes to reach peak brightness, and more than one flare can occur at a time. Moreover, in addition to bursts of light and radio waves, flares on dim red dwarfs may emit up to 10,000 times as many X-rays as a comparably-sized solar flare on our own Sun, and so flares would be lethal to Earth-type life on planets near the flare star. Hence, Earth-type life around flare stars may be unlikely because planets must be located very close to dim red dwarfs to be warmed sufficiently by star light to have liquid water (about 0.015 AU with an orbital period of 2.2 days for Ross 128), which makes flares even more dangerous around such stars. In any case, the light emitted by red dwarfs may be too red in color for Earth-type plant life to perform photosynthesis efficiently.
Hunt for Substellar Companions
A recent search for faint companions using the Hubble Space Telescope found no supporting evidence for a large Jupiter or brown dwarf sized object (Schroeder et al, 2000).
The following star systems are located within 10 light-years of Ross 128.
|Star System||Spectra &|
|Wolf 359||M5.8 V||3.8|
|Wolf 424 AB||M5.5 Ve |
|LP 731-58||M6.5 V||5.7|
|Lalande 21185||M2.1 Ve||6.5|
|AD Leonis||M3 Ve||8.4|
|EE Leonis||M4 Ve||8.4|
|DENIS 1048-39||M9 V?||~9|
|LTT 12352||M3.5 V||10.0|
Up-to-date technical summaries on these stars can be found at: the Astronomiches Rechen-Institut at Heidelberg's ARICNS, NASA's NStar Database, and the Research Consortium on Nearby Stars (RECONS) list of the 100 Nearest Star Systems. Additional information may be available at Roger Wilcox's Internet Stellar Database.
Translated into Latin by the Romans from the Greek Goddess Demeter, the Earth-Goddess, Virgo is associated with the arrival of spring and bringer of the growing season. For more information about the stars and objects in this constellation and an illustration, go to Christine Kronberg's Virgo. For another illustration, see David Haworth's Virgo.
For more information about stars including spectral and luminosity class codes, go to ChView's webpage on The Stars of the Milky Way.
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