Proxima Centauri - Earth’s closest star to host a planet - released an immense solar flare last March, which could be bad for potential life on the star’s planet, Proxima b.
Just under a year ago Centauri got 1,000 times brighter during a 10-second span, then immediately dimmed. Astronomer Meredith MacGregor of the Carnegie Institution for Science in Washington, D.C. says this was an enormous stellar flare that liked blasted Proxima b with 4,000 times more radiation than Earth typically gets from the sun’s flares.
" If there are flares like this at all frequently, then [the exoplanet] is likely not in the best shape," MacGregor says. Scientists have been eyeing Proxima b trying to see if it has Earth-like qualities which could potentially sustain human life. Four light-years away from our planet, Proxima b’s mass is about the same as Earth and is suspected to have temperatures suitable for liquid water. But Proxima Centauri is an M dwarf star, known to produce massive flares that rip away the atmospheres of their orbiting planets. Yet, there’s still debate in the astronomy world as to whether or not the flash was a flare.
Guillem Anglada of the Institute of Astrophysics of Andalusia in Granada, Spain attributes the unexpected light to a ring of dust similar to our solar system’s Kuiper Belt, which, he said in an Astrophysical Journal Letters published Nov. 15, scattered the light in all directions.
When MacGregor’s team studied Anglada’s data, they found that all the extra light came from a two-minute span on March 24, 2017. A massive flare explains all the extra light, she says — none of it was moonlighting as a shimmering dust ring.
Anglada says he and his colleagues are aware of the March 24 flare and are currently revisiting their original claim.