The Earth Next Door

Jim Davenport, a postdoctoral fellow at Western Washington University, believes Proxima b’s biggest obstacle to Earth-like conditions is likely to be Proxima Centauri’s continual flares, which can be ten times more energetic than any ever observed on our Sun. Harsh x-rays and ultraviolet radiation from the flares could strip Proxima b of its atmosphere, leaving it barren and airless. But hope remains in this case, too—a protective magnetic field much like Earth’s or a thick and steamy atmosphere could conceivably fend off the worst of the flares. “To play on Hamlet, there are more things in heaven and exoplanets than are dreamt of in our textbooks,” Davenport says. “But right now we just don’t know.”

Wednesday, August 24, 2016 - 1:02pm