Some 4.24 lightyears away is Proxima Centauri, the nearest star to our Sun. Since the star was first discovered well over 100 years ago, researchers have discovered at least two exoplanets that orbit the red dwarf. At the same time some researchers hope to find microbial life on Mars, one of Proxima Centauri's most recent solar flares doesn't bode well for potential life on those aforementioned exoplanets.
A new study by scientists at the University of Colorado Boulder reveals a 2019 solar flare that managed to increase the star's brightness by over 14,000 times. The event lasted for seven seconds on May 1, 2019 and would have essentially vaporized any human life residing on the planets orbiting the star.
“The star went from normal to 14,000 times brighter when seen in ultraviolet wavelengths over the span of a few seconds,” study lead Meredith MacGregor said in a statement. "If there was life on the planet nearest to Proxima Centauri, it would have to look very different than anything on Earth. A human being on this planet would have a bad time."
Because of the star's proximity to our solar system, it's been the subject of many studies in the everlasting search for extraterrestrial life. Though two planets orbit the sun, only one — Promix Centauri b — has been labeled as one possible home for alien life because of its location in a "habitable zone."
“A lot of the exoplanets that we’ve found so far are around these types of stars,” MacGregor added. “But the catch is that they’re way more active than our sun. They flare much more frequently and intensely.”
Though red dwarfs are the most common stars in the galaxy, the star's volatility is something that concerns researchers. Though the May 1, 2019 event is the star's largest such event on record, MacGregor and her team revealed it's not a once-in-a-lifetime ordeal. Similar solar flares take place on a daily basis.
“Proxima Centauri’s planets are getting hit by something like this not once in a century, but at least once a day if not several times a day,” the researcher concluded. “There will probably be even more weird types of flares that demonstrate different types of physics that we haven’t thought about before."
This study first appeared in The Astrophysical Journal Letters.
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