What it means for the chances of an alien neighbor

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The sun is not the only star that produces solar flares. On April 21, 2021, a team of astronomers The brightest flare ever measured with UV light from Proxima Centauri..The conversation spoke to learn about this special event and what it means for life on the planet orbiting the Earth’s closest adjacent stars. Parke Loyd, Astrophysicist, Arizona State University And co-author of the treatise. An excerpt from our conversation is below and edited for length and clarity.

Why did you see Proxima Centauri?

Proxima Centauri is the closest star to this solar system. 2-3 years ago, Discovered by the team Being Planet-called Proxima b-orbiting a star..It ’s a little bigger than the earth, Probably full of rocks And it’s in the so-called habitable zone, or the Goldilock zone. This means that there may be liquid water on the surface because Proxima b is at about the right distance from the star.

However, this system differs from the Sun in a fairly important way. Proxima Centauri Red dwarf – It’s about 15% of the radius of our sun and it’s pretty cool. Therefore, Proxima b is actually much closer to Proxima Centauri than the Sun because it is in its Goldilock zone.

You might think that a small star is a better star, but it’s not. Red dwarfs produce stellar flares. Much more often than the sun.. Therefore, Proxima b, the closest planet in another potentially life-like solar system, is affected by much more severe space weather than the Earth’s solar system.

A photo of the surface of the sun where a plasma explosion rises.

A photo of the surface of the sun where a plasma explosion rises.

What did you find?

In 2018, my colleague Meredith McGregor discovered a flash of light coming from Proxima Centauri. It looked very different from the solar flare.. She used a telescope to detect millimeter-wavelength light to monitor Proxima Centauri and saw a large flash of this wavelength. Astronomers have never seen stellar flares in millimeter-wavelength light.

My colleague and I wanted to know more about these extraordinary brightness of millimeters of light coming from the stars and see if they were actually flares or other phenomena. Using nine telescopes and satellite observatories on Earth, we obtained the longest observation set of Proxima Centauri, which has the widest wavelength range ever obtained (about two days’ worth).

straight away Discover a really strong flare.. The ultraviolet rays of stars have increased more than 10,000 times in just a moment. If humans can see ultraviolet rays, it is like being blinded by the flash of a camera. Proxima Centauri got brighter really fast. This increase lasted only a few seconds and then gradually declined.

This finding did confirm that these strange millimeter emissions were flares.

A gray rocky planet with a thin star behind it.

A gray rocky planet with a thin star behind it.

What does that mean for life opportunities on Earth?

Astronomers are currently actively investigating this question as it can go in either direction. When you hear UV rays, you may be thinking that you are applying sunscreen on the earth to protect yourself from UV rays.Ultraviolet rays can Damages proteins and DNA In human cells, which can cause sunburn and cause cancer. It may also apply to life on another planet.

On the contrary, tampering with biomolecular chemistry has advantages – it May spark life on another planet.. It may be a more difficult environment for life to sustain itself, but it may be a better environment for life to be born in the first place.

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But what astronomers and astrobiologists are most concerned about is that every time one of these giant flares occurs, it basically happens. A little erodes the atmosphere Planets orbiting that star-including this potentially Earth-like planet. And if there is no atmosphere left on your planet, you definitely have a fairly hostile environment to life – large amounts of radiation, large temperature fluctuations, and little or no air to breathe. .. Life is not impossible, but basically exposing the surface of a planet directly to space is a completely different environment than anything else on Earth.

Is there any atmosphere left in Proxima b?

That’s everyone’s guess at this point. The fact that these flares are occurring does not signal that the atmosphere has not been compromised. Especially if they are related. Plasma explosion Like what happens in the sun. But that’s why we do this job. We hope that those who build models of the planet’s atmosphere will try to incorporate what our team has learned about these flares to understand the probability of the atmosphere being maintained on this planet.

This article will be republished from conversation, A non-profit news site aimed at sharing ideas from academic experts. It was written by: RO Parkroid, Arizona State University..

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RO Parke Loyd is funded by NASA.