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Sun's Nearest Neighbour Proxima Centauri Releases Largest Ever Recorded Flare

The planet Proxima b orbiting the red dwarf star Proxima Centauri, the closest star to our Solar System. (Credit: REUTERS)

The planet Proxima b orbiting the red dwarf star Proxima Centauri, the closest star to our Solar System. (Credit: REUTERS)

This discovery of Proxima Centauri's flare is significant in hinting at new physics that could change the way scientists think about stellar flares.

Sun’s nearest neighbor, the star Proxima Centauri released one of the largest recorded flares according to a recent study. 4.243 light years or more than 20 trillion miles away from Earth, this star is a red dwarf, the name for a class of stars that are unusually petite and dim. According to the recent study, this happens to be a mighty star. Prima hosts at least two planets, one of which may look something like Earth.

Published in the Astrophysical Journal Letters on Wednesday, the study was led by the University of Colorado Boulder. CU Boulder astrophysicist Meredith MacGregor and her colleagues observed Proxima Centauri for 40 hours using nine telescopes on the ground and in space, including Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA), Australian Square Kilometre Array Pathfinder (ASKAP), Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS), Hubble Space Telescope (HST)and the du Pont Telescope. The team of scientists extrapolate on the surprising flarethat occurred on May 1, 2019.

As the team was observing the star, Proxima Centauri ejected a flare, or a burst of radiation that began near the surface of a star and ranks as one of the most violent seen anywhere in the galaxy. MacGregor, an assistant professor at the Center for Astrophysics and Space Astronomy (CASA) and Department of Astrophysical and Planetary Sciences (APS) at CU Boulder, said in a statement that the red dwarf went from its normal brightness to 14,000 times brighter when seen in ultraviolet wavelengths over the span of a few seconds.

This discovery is significant in hinting at new physics that could change the way scientists think about stellar flares. The event also shows how the extreme behaviour of the star is not a good indication for any organism brave enough to live nearit. MacGregor said that if there was life on the planet nearest to Proxima Centauri, it would look very different than anything on Earth, and any human being on that planet might not be having a pleasant time.

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However, the study also mentions how the star is constantly facing something that is compelling it to act in a volatile way. The researchers also recorded many other flares during the 40 hours they spent watching the star, besides the massive flare that caught their attention. MacGregor said that it is most likely there will be even more weird types of flares that demonstrate different types of physics that they have not thought of before.

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first published:April 22, 2021, 16:45 IST