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Astronomers detect largest flare ever, on Proxima Centauri

In May 2019 astronomers using the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) have detected the largest flare ever seen from any star, including our Sun, on the nearest star, the red dwarf Proxima Centauri.

The detection was 100 times stronger than the Sun’s typical flares.

In May 2019, Proxima Centauri ejected a violent flare that lasted just seven seconds, but generated a surge in both ultraviolet and millimeter wavelengths. The flare was characterized by a strong, impulsive spike never before seen at these wavelengths. The event was recorded by five of the nine telescopes involved in the study, including the Hubble Space Telescope (HST) in ultraviolet, and ALMA in millimeter wavelengths. “The star went from normal to 14,000 times brighter when seen in ultraviolet wavelengths over the span of a few seconds,” said MacGregor, adding that similar behavior was captured in millimeter wavelengths by ALMA at the same time.

Red dwarfs are known to issue very powerful flares, a high solar activity that would likely make life as we know it impossible on any Earth-sized planet in its habitable zone, since the star’s small size and dimness requires that zone to be so close to the star. This powerful flare only cements this reality. The exoplanets that have been found circling Proxima Century will therefore not be great places for life, though building the first interplanetary colony there might make sense.

Pioneer cover

From the press release: From the moment he is handed a possibility of making the first alien contact, Saunders Maxwell decides he will do it, even if doing so takes him through hell and back.

 
Unfortunately, that is exactly where that journey takes him.

The vision that Zimmerman paints of vibrant human colonies on the Moon, Mars, the asteroids, and beyond, indomitably fighting the harsh lifeless environment of space to build new societies, captures perfectly the emerging space race we see today.

He also captures in Pioneer the heart of the human spirit, willing to push forward no matter the odds, no matter the cost. It is that spirit that will make the exploration of the heavens possible, forever, into the never-ending future.

Available everywhere for $3.99 (before discount) at amazon, Barnes & Noble, all ebook vendors, or direct from the ebook publisher, ebookit. And if you buy it from ebookit you don't support the big tech companies and I get a bigger cut much sooner.

14 comments

  • Doubting Thomas

    I wonder if we will see in about 4 years (it’s about 4 light years away I think), any effect in our neck of the woods?

  • Matt in AZ

    What we saw already occoured 4 years ago, so any effect here (negligible, due to the still immense distance) would have just now happened.

  • Matt in AZ: I hope you didn’t think I implied this flare was a concern to us, here on Earth? That was not the intend. The flare illustrates why life on an exoplanet in orbit there would not be a good place for life.

  • Matt in AZ

    I was responding to Doubting Thomas.

  • Matt in AZ: Right. My mistake. The way I see comments it is hard to see who people are responding to unless they show the name in the comment.

  • Doubting Thomas

    Well I thank Matt and Robert. My question was not meant to imply that I thought that the flare was a threat to earth and if I had given 30 more seconds of thought to the post, I would have realized that along with the light from the flare – the effects are here too.

    It is a fascinating article – So I guess we won’t ever be seeing “Revolt of Alpha C” like Robert Silverberg wrote for Scholastic Books. I liked that book but I guess (1959) I’m showing my age.

    Thanks for you kind corrections and observations.

  • Doubting Thomas: Ah, Robert Silverberg, one of the best science fiction authors from the 60s and 70s, all mostly forgotten today.

  • Jeff Wright

    “Inconstant Moon” was the Niven short story I was thinking of, what with this news. The Aussies have a better night sky.

  • mpthompson

    I wonder if we’ll ultimately be surprised by the power of natural selection to create complex molecules and ultimately life even in the hostile environment we believe Proxima Centauri to be. If one of the planets is comparable to Europa perhaps the flares won’t be that big of a deal to life developing in a liquid ocean 100’s of miles under a thick layer of protective ice.

  • Doubting Thomas

    Jeff Wright – Yes another story very apropos for the post and mpthompson, a fascinating thought of life shielded from the environment by 100’s of miles of ice

  • Robert observed: ” the best science fiction authors from the 60s and 70s, all mostly forgotten today.”

    Not on my bookshelf.

  • wayne

    “The True History of Science Fiction: 60’s Onwards”
    Part 2
    Mr. Sci-Fi (Mark Zicree)
    https://youtu.be/wdfFN4wyfq8
    1:06:34

  • Jack O'Leary

    Try “Medea: Harlan’s World”, edited by Harlan Ellison for science fiction describing how life could adapt and thrive in such a star system. Many of SFs greats like Frank Herbert and Larry Niven contributed.

  • Jeff Wright

    I think we could engineer life for those possibilities-but these worlds are likely sterile. That having been said-the conditions for life to develop may need to be harsher than that needed to sustain todays sensitive life. I could see Radiodurans on a cooler dwarf star.

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