Exploring the Atmosphere of Earth-Like Planet Proxima b and Its Potential for Life –“Orbiting Our Closest Neighboring Star” (VIDEO)

 

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The quest to discover whether a planet orbiting our closest neighboring star, Proxima Centauri (4.2 light years or 25 trillion miles from Earth), has the potential to support life has taken a new, exhilarating twist.


Discovered in August 2016 the planet, Proxima B, is thought to be of similar size to Earth, creating the possibility that it could have an `Earth-like' atmosphere. Scientists from the University of Exeter have embarked on their first, tentative steps to explore its potential climate and potential to support life.

 

Early studies have suggested that the planet is in the habitable zone of its star Proxima Centauri – the region where, given an Earth-like atmosphere and suitable structure, it would receive the right amount of light to sustain liquid water on its surface.

Using the state-of-the-art Met Office Unified Model, which has been successfully used to study the Earth's climate for several decades, the team simulated the climate of Proxima B if it were to have a similar atmospheric composition to our own Earth.

The team also explored a much simpler atmosphere, comprising of nitrogen with traces of carbon dioxide, as well as variations of the planets orbit. This allowed them to both compare with, and extend beyond, previous studies.

The results showed that Proxima B could have the potential to be habitable, and could exist in a remarkably stable climate regime. However, much more work must be done to truly understand whether this planet can support, or indeed does support life of some form.

"Our research team looked at a number of different scenarios for the planet's likely orbital configuration using a set of simulations," siadIan Boutle, lead author of the paper. "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."

 

 

"One of the main features that distinguishes this planet from Earth is that the light from its star is mostly in the near infra-red," added James Manners, also an author on the paper. "These frequencies of light interact much more strongly with water vapour and carbon dioxide in the atmosphere which affects the climate that emerges in our model."

Using the Met Office software, the Unified Model, the team found that both the tidally-locked and 3:2 resonance configurations result in regions of the planet able to host liquid water. However, the 3:2 resonance example resulted in more substantial areas of the planet falling within this temperature range. Additionally, they found that the expectation of an eccentric orbit, could lead to a further increase in the "habitability" of this world.

"With the project we have at Exeter we are trying to not only understand the somewhat bewildering diversity of exoplanets being discovered, but also exploit this to hopefully improve our understanding of how our own climate has and will evolve," said co-author James Manners

The Daily Galaxy via University of Exeter

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