Proxima Centauri is just 4.2 light years away from Earth and is the nearest star to the Sun. Astronomers often keep a close eye on it due to its close proximity to the solar system. 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.
Now, astronomers have seen the largest stellar flare they have ever recorded.
Researchers from the University of Colorado, Boulder (CU BOULDER), observed Proxima Centauri for 40 hours using nine telescopes both on the ground and in space.
During the brief stint looking at the star, the researchers were lucky enough to see the stellar flare which could cripple Earth’s technology had it been released from the Sun.
CU Boulder astrophysicist Meredith MacGregor said: “The star went from normal to 14,000 times brighter when seen in ultraviolet wavelengths over the span of a few seconds.”
According to the research published in The Astrophysical Journal Letters, the new findings could change the way experts think about stellar flares.
Prof MacGregor said that five of the nine telescopes observing Proxima Centauri captured the star producing a wide spectrum of radiation.
She continued: “It’s the first time we’ve ever had this kind of multi-wavelength coverage of a stellar flare.
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“Usually, you’re lucky if you can get two instruments.
“In the past, we didn’t know that stars could flare in the millimetre range, so this is the first time we have gone looking for millimetre flares.
“There will probably be even more weird types of flares that demonstrate different types of physics that we haven’t thought about before.”
There are at least two planets orbiting Proxima Centauri, one of which, Proxima c, is similar in size to Earth.
As there were obvious comparisons between our planet and the nearby rock, ultimately bringing up the question of whether it could support life.
However, with such an intense bombardment of radiation from Proxima Centauri, it is unlikely anything could survive there.
Prof MacGregor said: “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.
“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.”