Su­per­flare scorches hope of life on our clos­est ex­o­planet

In­tense ra­di­a­tion from Prox­ima Cen­tauri casts huge doubts for life

All About Space - - Launch Pad -

As­tronomers are dis­mayed to dis­cover that Prox­ima Cen­tauri has bom­barded the ex­o­planet Prox­ima b with ra­di­a­tion. A stel­lar flare in March last year was ten-times brighter than our Sun's largest flares, and as Prox­ima b is far closer to its star than the Earth is to ours, it all but de­stroys the chance of the planet sup­port­ing alien life.

The flare was dis­cov­ered us­ing data from the Ata­cama Large Mil­lime­ter/sub­mil­lime­ter Ar­ray (ALMA), with the whole event, also in­volv­ing smaller flares, last­ing for less than two min­utes. That was enough, how­ever, to al­low sci­en­tists to reach a sober­ing con­clu­sion. “Over the bil­lions of years since Prox­ima b formed, flares like this one could have evap­o­rated any at­mos­phere or ocean and ster­ilised the sur­face, sug­gest­ing that hab­it­abil­ity may in­volve more than just be­ing the right dis­tance from the host star to have liq­uid wa­ter,” says Mered­ith MacGregor, an as­tronomer at the Carnegie In­sti­tu­tion for Sci­ence.

It does, how­ever, mean that as­tronomers can hone the search for ex­trater­res­trial life and make more ac­cu­rate fu­ture pre­dic­tions based on whether in­ten­sive, vi­o­lent ra­di­a­tion is likely to be felt. For now, we can most likely rule out Prox­ima b, even though it's in its star's hab­it­able zone.

The su­per­flare shone at a fac­tor of 1,000 for just ten sec­onds

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