Sciency Words: Flare Star

August 26, 2016

Sciency Words BIO copy

Today’s post is part of a special series here on Planet Pailly called Sciency Words. Each week, we take a closer look at an interesting science or science-related term to help us all expand our scientific vocabularies together. Today’s term is:


Good Star Trek fans will remember the Battle of Wolf 359, when the Borg came to assimilate us all. Thirty-nine Federation starships were lost. Nearly 11,000 people were killed. #NeverForget

Good Trekkies may also be aware of the fact that Wolf 359 is a real place. It’s a red dwarf star in the constellation Leo, located within a mere eight light-years from Earth.

Also, Wolf 359 is a UV Ceti variable star, or what is more commonly called a flare star. Flare stars experience dramatic, unpredictable increases in brightness across the EM spectrum, including increases in highly destructive X-ray and gamma ray emissions.

And when a flare star starts to flare up, it can happen quickly. In 1952, the star UV Ceti (for which the UV Ceti variable star category is named) became about 75 times brighter in a period of only twenty seconds.

It’s believed that the flare activity of flare stars is similar to the kind of solar flares we’ve observed on our own Sun. Except the Sun’s solar flares are usually not so intense. And when it comes those X-rays and gamma rays, our Sun doesn’t even come close to what spews out of flare stars.

So perhaps parking thirty-nine starships next to a flare star wasn’t the smartest thing Starfleet could have done. Maybe… just maybe… what happened at Wolf 359 wasn’t the Borg Collective’s fault.

Ag26 Battle of Wolf 359

P.S.: Another flare star has been in the news a lot lately: Proxima Centauri. We now know, thanks to the European Southern Observatory, that Proxima does have an Earth-like planet in orbit. So the next question is just how thoroughly that planet has been cooked by Proxima’s violent flare-ups.

Proxima Centauri Has a Planet!

August 16, 2016

Ohmigod, ohmigod, ohmigod!

Okay, calm down, James. Breathe. Breathe.

Okay. Let’s take a look at Alpha Centuari, a binary star system located within a mere 5 light-years from Earth. In the bottom corner of the image, you can see a red dwarf star called Proxima Centauri, which is believed to be a companion to the Alpha Centauri pair. And in orbit of Promixa, you can see… you can see… ohmigod!

Ag16 Alpha Centauri

Apparently the European Southern Observatory (ESO) has discovered a planet orbiting Proxima. Not only that, it’s an Earth-like planet. And furthermore, it’s within Proxima’s habitable zone. This according to an unnamed source in a German newspaper.

The ESO is a highly respected, extremely trustworthy astronomical institution. As for unnamed sources… okay, let’s put our skeptical hats back on.

Let’s also remember that Earth-like planets are not necessarily all that Earth-like. For the last few weeks, I’ve been blogging from the surface of Titan, which is often described as one of the most Earth-like worlds in the Solar System. And let me tell you, it is miserable here. I guess there could be life on Titan, but not life as we humans understand it.

Mars is also sometimes described as Earth-like, and believe it or not, so is Venus.

Ag16 Earth-like Worlds

Supposedly the ESO will release its official findings at the end of August. Until then, we’ll just have to sit back, wait patiently, and stay skeptical.

P.S.: Ohmigod! Proxima Centauri might have… might… I can’t even! OH MY GOD!!!


Earth-like Planet Around Proxima Centauri Discovered from Universe Today.