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Radiation may not stop life on a planet just 4 light-years away

Artist's impression of Proxima-b orbiting its star. Photo: ESO/M. Kornmesser
Artist's impression of Proxima-b orbiting its star. Photo: ESO/M. Kornmesser

Proxima-b, a planet orbiting Proxima Centauri, a red star only 4 light-years from Earth, could support life despite being bombarded by high levels of radiation, according to new research.

What they found: While the amount of radiation bathing Proxima-b today is extreme by our current standards, that may not have been the case for Earth 4 billion years ago. Early in its history, our planet was blasted with more radiation than Proxima-b, and life still managed to develop.

What they did: The study modeled the radiation environments of planets orbiting red dwarf stars that are typically the source of extreme radiation.

  • According to the study, Proxima-b is bombarded with more than 200 times the X-ray radiation that Earth receives today.
  • That level of radiation was thought to mean certain death for living things on the world’s surface.

What they're saying: "The chances of finding life close to us around the closest stars that happen to be red young suns is much greater now, and so our quest to figure out whether we’re alone in the universe just got a tiny bit easier," Lisa Kaltenegger, one of the authors of the new study, said in a video.

Why it matters: Small, red stars are plentiful in our part of space, so if radiation isn't a dealbreaker for habitability, some of those relatively nearby worlds could host life, and it would make them candidates for followup study.

Go deeper: The interstellar object Oumuamua is almost certainly not an alien spaceship