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Exoplanet Proxima b may host alien life

This artist’s impression shows a view of the surface of the planet Proxima b orbiting the red dwarf star Proxima Centauri, the closest star to the Solar System. The double star Alpha Centauri AB also appears in the image to the upper-right of Proxima itself. Proxima b is a little more massive than the Earth and orbits in the habitable zone around Proxima Centauri, where the temperature is suitable for liquid water to exist on its surface. Credits: ESO/M. Kornmesser

Back in August 2016, astronomers and other space enthusiasts got exciting news about the discovery by stargazers at the European Southern Observatory (ESA) of a potentially habitable exoplanet, Proxima b, located a mere 4.25 light-years from Earth. Now, the results of a new study from the University of Exeter suggest the world may indeed support liquid water and, possibly, life.

The researchers simulated various climate and atmospheric conditions using climate modeling software from the UK’s national weather service. The results are intriguing.

“Overall, our results are in agreement with previous studies in suggesting Proxima Centauri B may well have surface temperatures conducive to the presence of liquid water,” write the authors in the May 16, 2017, issue of Astronomy and Astrophysics.

Proxima b appears to be a rocky planet with  a mass a little greater than that of Earth. It orbits Proxima Centauri, the smallest star in the system Alpha Centauri, within the ‘Goldilocks’ or habitable zone — where temperatures are just right for liquid water to exist. Proxima Centauri is the closest star to Earth, apart from the sun.

The researchers not only looked at Proxima b’s climate in light of different atmospheric compositions, they ran models for various orbital configurations.

“Our research team looked at a number of different scenarios for the planet’s likely orbital configuration using a set of simulations,” explained lead author Dr. Ian Boutle, in a statement. “As well as examining how the climate would behave if the planet was ‘tidally-locked’ (where one day is the same length as one year), we also looked at how an orbit similar to Mercury, which rotates three times on its axis for every two orbits around the sun (a 3:2 resonance), would affect the environment.”

Most configurations resulted in the potential for liquid water to exist.

Unlike Earth’s sun, the light from Proxima b’s star shines mostly in near infra-red frequencies. These frequencies react more robustly with carbon dioxide and water vapor, affecting the model climate scenarios, according to co-author Dr. James Manners.

Studying the climate of Proxima b may have relevance to concerns closer to home, says the team.

“With the project we have at Exeter we are trying to not only understand the somewhat bewildering diversity of exoplanets being discovered,” added co-author Dr Nathan Mayne, “but also exploit this to hopefully improve our understanding of how our own climate has and will evolve.”

Delila James

Delila James

Associate Editor/Writer
Delila James practiced civil rights and employment law for almost 20 years. Before going to law school, she raised organic lamb on a ranch in the Sierra Nevada foothills, ran a dairy farm in Muscoda, WI, and then owned a popular live music nightclub in Madison, WI. She has a Master's degree in the History of Science from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where she went to law school. She also is a published poet. She now is a book editor, writes legal blogs, and is trying to finish a book. She has been writing for Science Recorder since March, 2013.
About Delila James (1321 Articles)
Delila James practiced civil rights and employment law for almost 20 years. Before going to law school, she raised organic lamb on a ranch in the Sierra Nevada foothills, ran a dairy farm in Muscoda, WI, and then owned a popular live music nightclub in Madison, WI. She has a Master's degree in the History of Science from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where she went to law school. She also is a published poet. She now is a book editor, writes legal blogs, and is trying to finish a book. She has been writing for Science Recorder since March, 2013.