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A team of astronomers led by Carnegie's Meredith MacGregor and Alycia Weinberger detected a massive stellar flare -- an energetic explosion of radiation -- from the closest star to our own Sun, Proxima Centauri, which occurred last March. This finding, published in Astrophysical Journal Letters, raises questions about the habitability of our Solar System's nearest exoplanetary neighbor, Proxima b, which orbits Proxima Centauri.

MacGregor, Weinberger and their colleagues -- the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics' David Wilner and Adam Kowalski and Steven Cranmer of the University of Colorado Boulder -- discovered the enormous flare when they reanalyzed observations taken last year by Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array, or ALMA, a radio telescope made up of 66 antennae.

At peak luminosity it was 10 times brighter than our Sun's largest flares when observed at similar wavelengths. Stellar flares have not been well studied at the wavelengths detected by ALMA, especially around stars of Proxima Centauri's type, called M dwarfs, which are the most common in our galaxy.

"March 24, 2017 was no ordinary day for Proxima Cen," said lead author MacGregor.

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Category: Science