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DSS Infrared Image of Proxima Centauri
(Credit: Digitized Sky Survey U.K. Schmidt Image/STScI)


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Proxima Centauri:
The Nearest Star to the Sun


Proxima Centauri
Credit: NASA/CXC/SAO

Chandra and XMM-Newton observations of the red dwarf star Proxima Centauri have shown that its surface is in a state of turmoil. Flares, or explosive outbursts, occur almost continually. This behavior can be traced to Proxima Centauri's low mass, about a tenth that of the Sun. In the cores of low mass stars, nuclear fusion reactions that convert hydrogen to helium proceed very slowly, and create a turbulent, convective motion throughout their interiors. This motion stores up magnetic energy which is often released explosively in the star's upper atmosphere where it produces flares in X-rays and other forms of light.

The same process produces X-rays on the Sun, but the magnetic energy is released in a less explosive manner through heating loops of gas, with occasional flares. The difference is due to the size of the convection zone, which in a more massive star such as the Sun, is smaller and closer to its surface.

Red dwarfs are the most common type of star. They have masses between about 8% and 50% of the mass of the Sun. Though they are much dimmer than the Sun, they will shine for much longer - trillions of years in the case of Proxima Centauri, compared to the estimated 10 billion-year lifetime of the Sun.

X-rays from Proxima Centauri are consistent with a point-like source. The extended X-ray glow is an instrumental effect. The nature of the two dots above the image is unknown - they could be background sources.

Fast Facts for Proxima Centauri:
Credit  NASA/CXC/SAO
Scale  Image is 1.5 arcmin across.
Category  Normal Stars & Star Clusters
Coordinates (J2000)  RA 14h 29m 42.90s | Dec -62° 40' 46.10"
Constellation  Centaurus
Observation Dates  May 07, 2000
Observation Time  8 hours
Obs. IDs  49899
Color Code  Intensity
Instrument  ACIS
References B. Wargelin and J. Drake 2002, Astrophysical J. 578, 503 M. Gudel et al. Astronomy and Astrophysics, 416, 713
Distance Estimate  4 light years from the Sun
Release Date  November 09, 2004