Earth's Closest Star System Alpha Centauri Maybe Harboring Life

Posted: Jun 10 2018, 12:45pm CDT | by , in Latest Science News


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Earth’s Closest Star System Alpha Centauri could Harbor Life
Credit: Optical: Zdenek Bardon; X-ray: NASA/CXC/Univ. of Colorado/T. Ayres et al.

NASA's Chandra observations indicate that any planets in the system are not eroded by intense X-ray radiation from its two brightest stars

Alpha Centauri is among the prime targets in the hunt for habitable planets. NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory has been observing this planetary system for more than a decade. Its latest observations suggest that any planet orbiting the two brightest stars in the Alpha Centauri system may have ideal conditions to support life as they are not affected by large amounts of X-ray radiation from their host stars. Stars frequently release high-energy radiation and this radiation can strip away the atmosphere of a planet.

Alpha Centauri is a star system located in the constellation of Centaurus, at a distance of just 4.3 light-years from Earth. This makes Alpha Centauri closest neighboring system to Earth.

“Because it is relatively close, the Alpha Centauri system is seen by many as the best candidate to explore for signs of life," said Tom Ayres of the University of Colorado Boulder. "The question is, will we find planets in an environment conducive to life as we know it?"

The system is made up of a binary star Alpha Centauri A and Alpha Centauri B and a faint red dwarf Alpha Centauri C or Proxima Centauri. Proxima Centauri also has an Earth-size planet in its habitable zone. Many studies have been focused on whether or not this planet could retain an atmosphere and liquid water on its surface as it orbits a red dwarf star.

However, Chandra data reveal that the prospects for life are actually better around Alpha Centauri A and Alpha Centauri B than Proxima. Proxima is a type of active red dwarf that frequently sends out dangerous flares of radiation and is likely hostile to life. Researchers reveal that any planets close to A would receive a lower dose of X-ray radiation than similar planets around the Sun while the X-ray dose for planets around companion B is slightly worse. In comparison, planets in the habitable zone around Proxima receive an average dose of X-rays about 500 times larger than the Earth.

"This is very good news for Alpha Cen AB in terms of the ability of possible life on any of their planets to survive radiation bouts from the stars," said Ayres. "Chandra shows us that life should have a fighting chance on planets around either of these stars."

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<a href="/latest_stories/all/all/47" rel="author">Hira Bashir</a>
The latest discoveries in science are the passion of Hira Bashir (). With years of experience, she is able to spot the most interesting new achievements of scientists around the world and cover them in easy to understand reporting.




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