Nearby Proxima b planet could be ‘covered’ in oceans

7 Oct 2016

Image: anouk3/Shutterstock

Following the discovery of Proxima b in the Alpha Centauri star system – otherwise known as Earth 2.0 – may be ‘covered’ in oceans, according to new research.

The discovery of Proxima b last August was seen as a huge discovery in the field of astronomy, as the exoplanet become the closest confirmed potentially habitable planet to our own.

Located within the Alpha Centauri star system, ‘clear evidence’ was found to indicate it was a rocky planet with a mass at least 1.3 times that of Earth, orbiting about 7m kilometres from its parent star.

Future Human

Could host life

But new research undertaken by the CNRS research institute in France has found that this rocky planet might not be dry, but could actually be ‘covered’ with oceans.

The previous research done with telescopes provided by the European Southern Observatory did show that liquid water could theoretically exist on the planet, but that the planet would be so volatile that any hopes of harbouring life would be quickly diminished.

This was because strong ultraviolet and x-ray flares emitted from Proxima Centauri could be considerably more intense and deadly than anything experienced on Earth.

Yet now, a statement from the CNRS institute (obtained from AFP) would appear to contradict this dismissal of the possibility of life within these possible oceans.

“Contrary to what one might expect, such proximity does not necessarily mean that Proxima b’s surface is too hot” for water to exist in liquid form, the statement read.

It went on to say that the “planet may very well host liquid water on its surface, and therefore also some forms of life”.

Up to 200km deep

To reach its latest calculations, the CNRS team used simulations to calculate the planet’s composition, determining its radius was between 0.94 and 1.4 times that of Earth.

By assuming that the planet would be very dense with a radius of just under 6,000km, surface water would only contribute 0.05pc of the planet’s mass, at the most.

However, another scenario calculated would put the planet’s radius at just under 9,000km and, if so, this would mean Proxima b’s mass could be a 50-50 split between its rocky core and an abundance of water.

This would result in a liquid ocean covering its entire surface with a depth of up to 200km.

“In both cases, a thin, gassy atmosphere could surround the planet, like on Earth, rendering Proxima b potentially habitable,” the CNRS said.

Hopefully by this time, Breakthrough Starshot will be able to return images to Earth of what it actually looks like, but it could be a number of decades before this is a possibility.

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic