Astronomers from the Havard-Smithsonian Centre have found our neighbouring star, Proxima Centauri, has a lot more in common with our Sun than previously thought.

A small red dwarf, it is orbited by a planet that is similar in size to Earth – Proxima b. It is one-tenth the size of the Sun and researchers have discovered it has a regular cycle of starspots, just like our Sun does.

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Jeremy Drake, from the Smithsonian and co-author of the paper published in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, had this to say: “The existence of a cycle in Proxima Centauri shows that we don’t understand how stars’ magnetic fields are generated as well as we thought we did.”

Our Sun has an 11-year activity cycle of starspots beginning with an almost spot-free surface to having more than 100 sunspots but on less than 1% of the Sun’s surface. Proxima Centauri undergoes a very similar cycle, only it is four years shorter and more dramatic. At least one-fifth of its surface is covered in sports at once, with some starspots much larger than those appearing on the Sun’s surface.

The discovery surprised astronomers as its interior is very different from the Sun’s. The outer third of the Sun experiences convection motion while the inner two-thirds remain, comparatively, still. Astronomers think the change in speed of rotations is responsible for starspots. It thought Proxima’s interior is convective all the way through to its cores and therefore shouldn’t have a regular cycle.

Lead author of the study, Brad Wargelin from the Smithsonian Centre, said: “If intelligent aliens were living on Proxima b, they would have a very dramatic view.”

Although the scientists did not try to address the chances that there could potentially be life of Proxima b, which exists in the star’s habitable zone an existing theory suggests flares or a stellar wind would have stripped away the planet’s atmosphere. Which would make Premix b more like our Moon than planet Earth?

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