Alpha Centauri system could have favorable conditions for life

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The search for habitable exoplanets spans far and wide, pushing the limits of what our modern telescopes are capable of. But rest assured that we aren’t ignoring what’s in our own backyard. Researchers have kept diligent eyes on Alpha Centauri, the closest system to Earth that happens to house Sun-like stars. And now, a comprehensive study published in Research Notes of the AAS clears Alpha Centauri’s two brightest stars of a crucial habitability factor: dangerous X-ray radiation.

In the study, NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory observed the three stars of Alpha Centauri, which sits just 4 light-years from Earth, twice a year since 2005. In an effort to determine the habitability of any planets within their orbits, Chandra monitored the amount of X-ray radiation that each star emitted into its habitable zone. An excess of X-ray radiation can wreak havoc on a planet by dissolving its atmosphere, causing harmful effects for potential residents, and creating destructive space weather that could mess with any technology possibly in use. But thankfully, the potential planets orbiting two of the three stars don’t have to worry any of that. In fact, these stars might actually create better planetary conditions than our own Sun. 

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

The three stars that make up Alpha Centauri aren’t exactly created equal, with some more hospitable to life than others. The two brightest stars in the system are a pair known as Alpha Cen A and Alpha Cen B (AB for short), which orbit each other so closely that Chandra is the only observatory precise enough to differentiate their X-rays. Farther out in the system is Alpha Cen C, known as Proxima, which is the closest non-Sun-like star to Earth. The AB pair are both remarkably similar to our Sun, with Alpha Cen A almost identical in size, brightness, and age, and Alpha Cen B only slightly smaller and dimmer.





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