by Paul Gilster, writer and author of “Centauri Dreams”.
Edited by Zaira M. Berdiñas
The Red Dots campaign to study Proxima Centauri, Barnard’s Star and Ross 154 gives us a cannily chosen set of targets. All red dwarfs much smaller than the Sun, these stars offer us the opportunity of atmospheric analysis of any planets discovered there by future space-and ground-based instruments because all are close. At 4.2 light years, Proxima Centauri is nearest to the Sun, but Barnard’s Star is a scant 6 light years out, making it the closest known star other than the three Alpha Centauri stars. Ross 154 comes in at just under 10 light years, still very much in the local neighborhood in astronomical terms.
The proper motion of Barnard’s Star between the years 1991 and 2007, an indication of its proximity to our own Solar System.
But it is not just their proximity that makes these stars interesting. We’d like to know how stars like this age, considering that young M-dwarfs can show strong flare activity. All three of these stars do, with Proxima Centauri and Ross 154 being catalogued as UV Ceti stars; i.e., stars that produce major flares every few days. Barnard’s ...