Scientists Discovered the Most Powerful Flare from a Nearby Star in History

Nashia Baker
·2 min read

All outer space sightings are captivating, but a recent finding is truly one for the record books. According to CNN, Proxima Centauri, our sun's closest star (which is located 25 trillion miles away), released a historic flare back in May 1, 2019. While it only lasted seven seconds, astronomers around the world are now sharing its massive impact in a study published in The Astrophysical Journal Letters. "The star went from normal to 14,000 times brighter when seen in ultraviolet wavelengths over the span of a few seconds," Meredith MacGregor, a study author and assistant professor at the University of Colorado Boulder, shared in a statement.

Artist's conception of the violent stellar flare from Proxima Centauri
Artist's conception of the violent stellar flare from Proxima Centauri

Courtesy of S. Dagnello, NRAO/AUI/NSF

The study authors used five telescopes, both on the ground and in space, to capture the giant flare, which was 100 times stronger than any that have come from the sun. The flare itself happened when a small red dwarf star (estimated at about one-eighth the size of the sun's mass) had a shift in its magnetic field, which caused electrons to speed up and create even more light. An eruption of energy, including radio waves and gamma rays, followed.

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"Proxima Centauri is of similar age to the Sun, so it's been blasting its planets with high energy flares for billions of years," Alycia Weinberger, study coauthor and staff scientist at the Carnegie Institution for Science, said in a statement. "Studying these extreme flares with multiple observatories lets us understand what its planets have endured and how they might have changed."

Scientists do know that other flares are common from this star since they note several intense ones over just a 40-hour period. The team will still keep an eye on this star to detect potentially habitable conditions and understand other developments in the solar system since "there will probably be even more weird types of flares that demonstrate different types of physics that we haven't thought about before," MacGregor said.