Artist’s concept of huge flares on Proxima Centauri, which unleash ionizing radiation. This radiation could be dangerous for any possible life on planets orbiting close to the star. Image via NASA/ ESA/ G. Bacon (STScI)/ Phys.org.
This month, even as some astronomers are talking about a possible mystery radio signal from Proxima Centauri – a signal of interest to astronomers who search for intelligent life beyond Earth – other astronomers are talking about space weather in the vicinity of this star, which is the nearest star to our sun. Space weather in Proxima’s vicinity, they are saying, might make life on its planets difficult or even impossible.
What is space weather?
When we hear about weather, we might think of Earth – sun, clouds, rain, wind and so on – or we might think about conditions on other planets or moons that have atmospheres. Space weather isn’t about that. It’s a sort of “weather” that originates in stars, including our own sun, and that permeates the space near a star. Space weather consists of ionizing radiation released during flares on the sun or other stars. The radiation can be deadly for any life forms that may exist on distant ...