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Proxima b could be a good candidate to host life

In the summer of 2016, a team of researchers led by astrophysicist Guillem Anglada-Escudé, from Queen Mary University of London, confirmed in the journal Nature that the solar system closest to ours, Proxima Centauri, was home to a rocky planet in its habitability zone, a region in which the necessary conditions exist for liquid water to exist on its surface. This suggested that it could be a magnificent candidate for harboring life, so since then, studies have multiplied that have this world as its protagonist, located about 4.22 light years away.

Proxima Centauri bo Proxima b, as it is known, is slightly larger than Earth, but different studies suggest that the similarities could end there. Apparently, the red dwarf around which it orbits maintains an extraordinary activity; it produces super flares and solar storms capable of devastating the atmosphere of nearby planets. In addition, the X-rays and ultraviolet radiation that these objects produce when they are still young can evaporate the hypothetical oceans present in them.

A hell or an orchard

Others point out that, regardless of all this, it is so close to its sun – it orbits about 7.5 million kilometers from it, while Mercury, for example, does so 57 million from the star king – that it would suffer an excessive effect greenhouse. Thus, it would be more like Venus, and it would be such an inhospitable world as this.

 

However, a new analysis of the available data promoted by experts in atmospheric and computational sciences at NASA maintains that, despite everything, Proxima b could have enough water for living things to thrive in it. In an interview with the Universe Today portal, astrophysicist Anthony D. Del Genio, from the aforementioned US space agency, who has coordinated this initiative, emphasizes that there are still too many things that we do not know about this planet. “We do not know if it has an atmosphere, but we do know that red dwarfs, such as Proxima Centauri, are smaller and cooler than the Sun, so the planets have to be much closer to these stars for them to be habitable,” he says.

Del Genio and his collaborators have proposed various scenarios in which this would be feasible. For example, there is a possibility that Proxima b has formed far from its star and, over time, has migrated into the system. This would have kept the object safe from the aforementioned X-ray and ultraviolet emissions. Furthermore, it could have harbored much more water than Earth, so that even if it had lost most of it in this time, it would still conserve oceans. Finally, perhaps it had a dense cover of gases that once laminated by solar activity would have given rise to an atmosphere suitable for the development of life.

 

An aquatic world just around the corner

To support their approaches, the researchers have built a series of simulations that use the same computer tools with which the Earth’s climatic history is studied and an attempt is made to predict its evolution. Likewise, they have taken into account what would happen if the hypothetical atmosphere of this exoplanet resembled ours or that of Mars, if it had more or less salty water masses, if it were covered by a global ocean and even if Proxima b always showed the same hemisphere to its star.

“From the results, we can determine that if Proxima b had water and atmosphere, it would have a great chance of being habitable,” says Del Genio. “Also that, even if its star only illuminated a part of its surface, the currents could carry the warm water to the regions where it was always night, so that these could harbor life. It is possible, in fact, that the entire planet is covered by water ”.

The authors of the essay point out that their proposals serve other rocky worlds orbiting red dwarfs and, given that 70% of all stars in our galaxy are, it could give a significant boost to the search for extraterrestrial life forms.

Reference: Habitable Climate Scenarios for Proxima Centauri b with a Dynamic Ocean . Anthony D. Del Genio et al. Astrobiology (2018) . DOI: 10.1089 / ast.2017.1760

Images: CfA – ESO / M. Kornmesser

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