FEB 26, 2018 06:01 PM PST

Proxima b May Not Be a Habitable Exoplanet After All

Orbiting the nearby star Proxima Centauri is an Earth-like exoplanet called Proxima b. Planetary scientists have marveled over Proxima b’s potential habitability since its detection in 2016, but the 4.25 light years that separate this distant world from our own make it challenging to study.

A massive solar flare eminating from Proxima Centauri last year suggests that Proxima b may not be a habitable exoplanet after all.

Image Credit: NASA/SDO, NASA/JPL

Challenges aside, an exoplanet’s host star can speak volumes about its habitability, and recent findings uncovered by astronomers from the Carnegie Institution for Science may come with implications for Proxima b’s ability to support life.

The astronomers stumbled upon a rather bright solar flare emanating from Proxima Centauri while studying the star with the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) in Chile last year.

Citing the study, which has been published in The Astrophysical Journal Letters this week, the flare reached a peak luminosity of more than ten times what we’d expect from our own Sun during its most violent lash-outs.

And if that’s not extreme enough, the astronomers say the flare out-shined Proxima Centauri’s normal brightness by more than 1,000 times during a ten-second period.

Related: NASA's upcoming James Webb Space Telescope will help us explore Proxima b

Powerful solar flares like this one can be a deal-breaker when considering an exoplanet’s habitability. They bombard orbiting exoplanets with high amounts of deadly radiation, and life as we know it doesn’t take too kindly to harsh environments of this nature.

“It's likely that Proxima b was blasted by high energy radiation during this flare,” explained study lead author Meredith McGregor.

“Over the billions of years since Proxima b formed, flares like this one could have evaporated any atmosphere or ocean and sterilized the surface, suggesting that habitability may involve more than just being the right distance from the host star to have liquid water.”

Related: Does Proxima b have a global ocean?

These findings paint a bleak picture concerning Proxima b’s ability to support life. It seems unlikely given the high levels of radiation that the exoplanet experiences from its host star, and it further underscores the uniqueness our solar system compared to neighboring stellar systems.

“There is now no reason to think that there is a substantial amount of dust around Proxima Cen,” added study co-author Alycia Weinberger in a statement. “Nor is there any information yet that indicates the star has a rich planetary system like ours.”

Source: Carnegie Science

About the Author
  • Fascinated by scientific discoveries and media, Anthony found his way here at LabRoots, where he would be able to dabble in the two. Anthony is a technology junkie that has vast experience in computer systems and automobile mechanics, as opposite as those sound.
You May Also Like
AUG 22, 2018
Space & Astronomy
AUG 22, 2018
NASA's InSight Spacecraft is Halfway to Mars, and Everything is Working
Just this week, NASA announced a significant milestone regarding the space agency’s InSight mission. The spacecraft, which launched from California&r...
AUG 28, 2018
Space & Astronomy
AUG 28, 2018
Jupiter's Formation Wasn't Smooth Sailing, Study Suggests
Jupiter is the largest-known planet in the solar system, and planetary scientists have been debating about how it formed for as long as we can remember. Bu...
SEP 04, 2018
Space & Astronomy
SEP 04, 2018
This NASA Rocket Will Spend 15 Minutes Gawking at the Sun with X-Ray Vision
NASA is currently eyeballing Friday, September 7th for the third consecutive launch of its Focusing Optics X-ray Solar Imager (FOXSI), a space vehicle spec...
SEP 05, 2018
Space & Astronomy
SEP 05, 2018
Saturn's Atmospheric Hexagon May Tower Higher Than Initially Thought
Although NASA’s Cassini mission ended almost one full year ago, researchers continue to analyze the stream of data the spacecraft beamed back to us b...
SEP 11, 2018
Space & Astronomy
SEP 11, 2018
Asteroid Mining Could Make Deep Space Missions Possible
  Deep space missions are faced with several challenges, including human safety and resource limitations, but asteroid mining could potentially solve...
SEP 18, 2018
Space & Astronomy
SEP 18, 2018
Were There Originally Three Magellanic Clouds?
Astronomers recognize the Large and Small Magellanic Clouds as some of the closest galaxies to the Milky Way, but could there have been a third Magellanic...
Loading Comments...