Proxima b’s star could be blasting away the planet’s atmosphere
Proxima b, just revealed as the nearest exoplanet to Earth, is probably battered by incredible bursts of energy from its star every few months. That could be bad news for the prospects of finding life on our neighbouring world. Stars, including our sun, produce flares when their magnetic fields become twisted, setting off explosions of plasma that cause huge increases in brightness. James Davenport of Western Washington University in Bellingham and his colleagues have been studying the planet’s red dwarf star Proxima Centauri using the Canadian MOST space telescope, and discovered it is probably flaring almost constantly, about every 20 minutes. “We knew it would have flares, but we didn’t realise it would be as riddled with flares as it is,” he says.