M dwarf stars have emerged as ideal targets for exoplanet observations. Their small radii aids planetary discovery, their close-in habitable zones allow short observing campaigns, and their red spectra provide opportunities for transit spectroscopy with JWST. The potential of M dwarfs has been underlined by remarkable systems such as the seven Earth-sized planets orbiting TRAPPIST-1 and the habitable-zone planet around Proxima Centauri.
Assessing the characteristics of such planets requires a firm understanding of how M dwarfs differ from the Sun, beyond just their smaller size and mass. Of particular importance are the time-variable, high-energy ultraviolet and x-ray regions of the M dwarf spectral energy distribution (SED), which can influence the chemistry and lifetime of exoplanet atmospheres, as well as their surface radiation environments. Unfortunately, those wavebands are extremely faint for most M dwarfs, requiring too large an investment of telescope time to obtain data at most stars.
The Measurements of the Ultraviolet Spectral Characteristics of Low-mass Exoplanetary Systems (Mega-MUSCLES) Treasury project, together with the precursor MUSCLES project, will produce full SEDs of a representative sample of M dwarfs, covering a wide range of stellar mass, age, and planetary system architecture. We have obtained x-ray and ultraviolet data for 12 stars using the Hubble, Chandra and XMM space telescopes, along with state-of-the-art DEM modelling to fill in the unobservable extreme ultraviolet regions. Our completed SEDs will be available as a community resource, with the aim that a close MUSCLES analogue should exist for most M dwarfs of interest.