Scientists detected one of the largest flares ever recorded in our galaxy and it came from our sun’s closest neighbor. A humongous flare erupted from Proxima Centauri and that could be bad news if there was any alien life near the star.
Proxima Centauri is a red dwarf star that is located about 4.25 light-years away from us. It is quite small and dim, measuring in at just one-eighth of our sun’s mass. There are two planets orbiting the star that includes an Earth-like world called Proxima Centauri b that is located in the habitable zone which means it could possibly host life.
However, the gigantic stellar flare that was emitted from the star was approximately a hundred times more powerful than the ones from our sun. This could have had major repercussions if there was life on Proxima Centauri b.
Scientists studied about 40 hours worth of information on the star based on data gathered in 2019 by nine ground and orbital telescopes that included the Hubble Space Telescope, the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array, and NASA's Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite. The flare was detected on May 1, 2019 and lasted seven seconds. “The star went from normal to 14,000 times brighter when seen in ultraviolet wavelengths over the span of a few seconds,” explained Meredith MacGregor, who is an astrophysicist at the University of Colorado Boulder and the lead author of the study.
The flare contained a different type of radiation compared to our sun. It emitted a large amount of ultraviolet light and radio waves called “millimeter radiation”. In a statement, MacGregor went into further details, “In the past, we didn't know that stars could flare in the millimeter range, so this is the first time we have gone looking for millimeter flares.”
The fact that they had so many different types of telescopes gathering data on the star definitely helped them as she stated, “It's the first time we've ever had this kind of multiwavelength coverage of a stellar flare.”
Since such a powerful flare was found emitting from a red dwarf star as well as the type of radiation, this could change the theory regarding exoplanets in their habitable zone. These flares would make it very hard for any type of life to survive on these planets and they probably wouldn’t have much of an atmosphere. Furthermore, these flares occur “much more frequently” than those emitted from our sun. “Proxima Centauri's planets are getting hit by something like this not once in a century, but at least once a day, if not several times a day," MacGregor said. And it’s quite probable that other red dwarfs emit the same types of flares which lowers the possibility of life thriving on planets close to them.
But that doesn’t mean that there isn’t some type of alien life on the exoplanet as MacGregor explained, “If there was life on the planet nearest to Proxima Centauri, it would have to look very different than anything on Earth.” “A human being on this planet would have a bad time.” The study was published in The Astrophysical Journal Letters.
An artist’s rendition of Proxima Centauri’s flare can be seen here.