This puts something of a damper on the notion that the red dwarf is being orbited by a plethora of planets, as was speculated by a team of researchers last year from the Institute of Astrophysics of Andalusia (IAA) in Spain. They announced that they'd detected a glow coming from Proxima Centauri and attributed it to a ring of dust, like the asteroid belt orbiting the Sun on the far side of Mars, or the Kuiper belt out past Pluto.
This, they believed, could indicate the presence of an entire planetary system orbiting outside of the exoplanet we already know about, called Proxima b - a rocky planet about 1.3 times the mass of Earth. The extra light detected by the IAA researchers, their new analysis suggests, wasn't reflected light from a dust ring after all, but the result of a massive solar flare. It's likely that Proxima b was blasted by high energy radiation during the event, which lowers the chances for finding life (as we know it) on the planet.
Because the star is so cool and dim, a planet would have to orbit very close to it in order to be within what our scientists call ‘the habitable zone.’ This means that it's much more likely to get lashed by stellar flares, which could strip away its atmosphere - if it had one – and evaporate any oceans or lakes and sterilise the surface of Proxima b – which suggests that habitability may involve more than just being the right distance from the host star to have liquid water.
Our Earth scientists have not given up finding other planets and life in the Proxima Centauri system. There may still be planets orbiting the star that we can't see. In fact, we can't even see Proxima b either. It was found in 2015 using Doppler spectroscopy, which confirms planets based on the very small changes in light when a star moves towards or away from us, tugged by the gravitational pull of an orbiting body. Because we can't see the planet directly, any other planets on the same orbital plane would likewise be invisible.
And the point that our Earthly scientists never take into account is that life-forms could be nothing at all like those on our planet and dimension. Life is not yet understood here.
Image Credit: proxima-centauri-massive-flare tinyurl.com/yaz2bk6k