Proxima Centauri Unleashes Major Solar Flare That May Have Destroyed Chances Of Life On Nearest Exoplanet


The human race needs to persist. The sun won't last — it's bound to implode and ravage everything orbiting it. The idea of a space colony seems largely farfetched, yet we've actually found a great candidate just 4.2 light-years away — an exoplanet called Proxima B — suppose we somehow become capable of setting up space colonies.

Not anymore, though. Proxima B's star, Proxima Centauri, has been detected unleashing a massive solar flare of around 316,227,766,000 petajoules, powerful enough for it to be visible from Earth.

Powerful enough, too, that it may have killed all chances of life on Proxima B. Imagine, for instance, that Earth had been in Proxima B's place during the flare. It would cause chemical reactions in the planet that would ultimately weaken its ozone layer.

Here's How A Massive Solar Flare Affected Proxima B

That's not to say that there was life on the surface of Proxima B to begin with, but suppose it had, it doesn't now, thanks to the solar event. Allison Youngblood, a postdoctoral fellow at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, along with her colleagues, recently released a paper on the said solar flare, which was detected back in March 2016.

When the flare took place two years ago, it was seen via the Evryscope, a nightly sky survey telescope that employs 24 cameras to observe transient events and transiting planets. The flare, according to the paper, was 10 times more powerful than any other flare produced by Proxima Centauri ever witnessed, which is notable for a stat already known for its highly volatile nature. What's more, it occurs fairly frequently.

"We estimate that flares of this size occur approximately five times a year on Proxima Centauri," says Youngblood.

"As Proxima's ozone column fraction does not appear to reach a steady state at the end of that period but instead continues a clear downward trend, we conclude that Proxima B has likely suffered extreme ozone loss over long timescales," the team writes in the paper.

Solar Flares

Beyond recurring solar flares of large magnitudes, Proxima Centauri also has several smaller ones that are also dangerous. By contrast, our sun has flares from time to time, but not so drastic as to wipe out life, just disrupt GPS systems. It really puts things into perspective.

So, there goes our chance of turning Proxima B into a space colony. The hunt for the next habitable planet, however, doesn't stop. But for now, we're still stuck with our own solar system.

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