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Ground-based observation of emission lines from the corona of a red-dwarf star


All ‘solar-like’ stars1 are surrounded by coronae2, which contain magnetically confined plasma at temperatures above 106 K. (Until now, only the Sun's corona could be observed in the optical—as a shimmering envelope during a total solar eclipse.) As the underlying stellar ‘surfaces’—the photospheres—are much cooler, some non-radiative process must be responsible for heating the coronae. The heating mechanism is generally thought to be magnetic in origin, but is not yet understood even for the case of the Sun. Ultraviolet emission lines first led to the discovery of the enormous temperature of the Sun's corona3,4, but thermal emission from the coronae of other stars has hitherto been detectable only from space, at X-ray wavelengths. Here we report the detection of emission from highly ionized iron (Fe XIII at 3,388.1 Å) in the corona of the red-dwarf star CN Leonis, using a ground-based telescope. The X-ray flux inferred from our data is consistent with previously measured X-ray fluxes, and the non-thermal line width of 18.4 km s-1 indicates great similarities between solar and stellar coronal heating mechanisms. The accessibility and spectral resolution (45,000) of the ground-based instrument are much better than those of X-ray satellites, so a new window to the study of stellar coronae has been opened.

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Figure 1: The ultraviolet spectrum of CN Leo from 3,370 Å to 3,395 Å.
Figure 2: The volume emission measure of CN Leo from the Fe XIII line at 3,388 Å.


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The data reported in this paper were collected at ESO's Paranal Observatory. We gratefully acknowledge the support of the ESO staff. We also thank D. Flower for discussions on Fe XIII.

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Correspondence to J. H. M. M. Schmitt.

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Schmitt, J., Wichmann, R. Ground-based observation of emission lines from the corona of a red-dwarf star. Nature 412, 508–510 (2001).

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