Earth-like planet around Proxima Centauri discovered
Proxima Centauri is just 4.2 light years away from Earth and is the nearest star to the Sun. Several planets orbit what is called the ‘habitable zone’ of the star – the region in space where it is neither too hot nor too cold. One planet, Proxima b, which orbits the star had been theorised to be Earth-like and as such may have been suitable for life.
Proxima b is virtually the same size as Earth, being just 1.17 times the size of our planet.
The planet takes just 11.2 days to orbit its host star, but the researchers believe it receives roughly the same amount of heat as Earth does from the Sun.
However, the issue is that Proxima Centauri is an M-type star – the most commonly found star throughout the Universe.
These M-type stars frequently flare up, releasing an explosion of ultraviolet flares.
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Now, new research has found these flares are so violent it essentially rules out the possibility of life on the nearby solar system.
Astronomer Andrew Zic of the University of Sydney in Australia said: “Astronomers have recently found there are two ‘Earth-like’ rocky planets around Proxima Centauri, one within the ‘habitable zone’ where any water could be in liquid form.
“But given Proxima Centauri is a cool, small red dwarf star, it means this habitable zone is very close to the star; much closer in than Mercury is to our Sun.
“What our research shows is that this makes the planets very vulnerable to dangerous ionising radiation that could effectively sterilise the planets.
“Our own Sun regularly emits hot clouds of ionised particles during what we call ‘coronal mass ejections’.
“But given the Sun is much hotter than Proxima Centauri and other red-dwarf stars, our ‘habitable zone’ is far from the Sun’s surface, meaning the Earth is a relatively long way from these events.
“Further, the Earth has a very powerful planetary magnetic field that shields us from these intense blasts of solar plasma.”
However, planets which orbit red dwarf stars might not be so lucky when it comes to having a magnetic field protection.
This is because red dwarfs may emit coronal mass ejection (CMEs), which are intense barrages of radiation from a star’s outer core.
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Using the Australian Square Kilometre Array Pathfinder (ASKAP) in the West Australian desert, scientists began looking for radio frequencies which are associated with CMEs.
The team from Australia analysed Proxima Centauri for signs of CMEs, and found properties of solar radio bursts associated with CMEs.
Ultimately, this means there is likely no life on the planets surrounding Proxima Centauri.
Mr Zic said: “This is probably bad news on the space weather front.
“It seems likely that the galaxy’s most common stars – red dwarfs – won’t be great places to find life as we know it.”
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