Massive stellar flare from our closest star is a bad sign for aliens

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The Sun isnt the only star to produce excellent flares. On April 21, 2021, a team of astronomers published new research explaining the brightest flare ever determined from Proxima Centauri in ultraviolet light. To discover this remarkable event– and what it may mean for any life on the worlds orbiting Earths closest surrounding star– I talked to Parke Loyd, an astrophysicist at Arizona State University and co-author of the paper. Excerpts from our discussion are below and have been edited for length and clarity.Why were you looking at Proxima Centauri?Proxima Centauri is the closest star to this planetary system. A couple of years back, a team discovered that there is a world– called Proxima b– orbiting the star. Its just a bit bigger than Earth, its probably rocky and it is in what is called the habitable zone, or the Goldilocks zone. This suggests that Proxima b has to do with the best range from the star so that it might have liquid water on its surface.But this star system is essentially different from the Sun. Proxima Centauri is a small star called a red dwarf– its around 15% of the radius of our Sun, and its substantially cooler. Proxima b, in order for it to be in that Goldilocks zone, in fact is a lot closer to Proxima Centauri than Earth is to the Sun.You might believe that a smaller star would be a tamer star, but thats actually not the case at all– red dwarfs produce stellar flares a lot more regularly than the Sun does. Proxima b, the closest planet in another solar system with a possibility for having life, is subject to space weather condition that is a lot more violent than the area weather in Earths solar system.

Excerpts from our conversation are below and have been modified for length and clarity.Why were you looking at Proxima Centauri?Proxima Centauri is the closest star to this solar system. A couple of years earlier, a group found that there is a world– called Proxima b– orbiting the star. This implies that Proxima b is about the best range from the star so that it might have liquid water on its surface.But this star system is basically different from the Sun. Proxima Centauri is a small star called a red dwarf– its around 15% of the radius of our Sun, and its significantly cooler. Proxima b, in order for it to be in that Goldilocks zone, actually is a lot closer to Proxima Centauri than Earth is to the Sun.You may think that a smaller sized star would be a tamer star, however thats really not the case at all– red overshadows produce excellent flares a lot more often than the Sun does.

Astronomers had actually never ever seen an outstanding flare in millimeter wavelengths of light.My coworkers and I desired to find out more about these unusual brightenings in the millimeter light coming from the star and see whether they were in fact flares or some other phenomenon. The ultraviolet light of the star increased by over 10,000 times in just a portion of a second. Even though it might be a more tough environment for life to sustain itself, it might be a better environment for life to be created to start with.But the thing that astronomers and astrobiologists are most concerned about is that every time one of these huge flares happens, it basically erodes away a bit of the atmosphere of any worlds orbiting that star– including this potentially Earth-like planet.