Superflare scorches hope of life on our closest exoplanet
Intense radiation from Proxima Centauri casts huge doubts for life
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