Proxima Centauri generates a massive solar flare

Shane McGlaun - Apr 22, 2021, 5:02am CDT
Proxima Centauri generates a massive solar flare

The closest star to the sun is called Proxima Centauri. Scientists recently spotted the largest solar flare ever recorded from that star. Proxima Centauri is four light-years, more than 20 trillion miles, from our sun and hosts at least two planets.

Astronomers believe that one of the planets may be similar to Earth. Proxima Centauri is a red dwarf star and only about one-eighth the mass of the sun. Researchers on the project observed Proxima Centauri for about 40 hours using nine different telescopes on the ground and in space to gather data. While observing the star, it ejected a massive flare, ranking as one of the most violent ever seen in the entire galaxy.

The star went from normal brightness to 14,000 times brighter when seen in ultraviolet wavelengths over a span of a few seconds. Findings gathered by the researchers could introduce new physics that could change the way scientists think about stellar flares. If the sun had produced a similar solar flare, it would have been very detrimental to life on Earth. Researchers note that if there were life on the planet nearest to Proxima Centauri, it would have to look very different than life here on Earth because being human on the planet during the flare would have been very bad.

The planet that orbits within the star’s habitable zone is called Proxima Centauri b. Orbiting in that zone means the planet could have liquid water on its surface. Red dwarf stars are known to be more active than stars like the sun. More activity means they flare more frequently and produce more intense flares. Researchers had nine different instruments pointed at Proxima Centauri over several months in 2019, and five of them recorded the massive solar flare.

Researchers note that it’s the first time we’ve had so much multi-wavelength coverage of a stellar flare. Typically, scientists consider themselves lucky to have two instruments pointed at a star when it flares. The massive fare was observed on May 1, 2019, and lasted seven seconds. It didn’t produce much light in the visible spectrum but produced a massive surge in ultraviolet and radio radiation, known as millimeter radiation. The flare was roughly 100 times more powerful than any similar flare seen from the sun.

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