Extraterrestrial Life May Feel at Home on Proxima B After All

One of the nearest stars to Earth, Proxima Centauri, is home to an exoplanet named Proxima B. The star around which that world is orbiting has recently been seen erupting with massive discharges of radiation. This has led some astronomers to conclude that system is unsuitable for life. Although that planet may be warm enough to support lifeforms, many researchers now believe any atmosphere around the planet would be stripped away by the powerful flares.

Astronomers typically study the gases surrounding extra-solar worlds by analyzing light passing through its atmosphere. However, Proxima B is not aligned correctly for that type of study. Therefore, researchers try to model what would happen to Earth if it were placed at the same distance from the star in alien systems.

Proxima B
An artist impression of what the surface of Proxima B may look like. Image: ESO/M. Kornmesser

“The question is, how much of the atmosphere is lost, and how quickly does that process occur? If we estimate that time, we can calculate how long it takes the atmosphere to completely escape — and compare that to the planet’s lifetime,” Ofer Cohen from the University of Massachusetts said.

Calculations show that if Earth were placed in that system, our atmosphere would drain away 10,000 times faster than it does here at home. Atmospheres are thought to be necessary for any world to sustain life.

However, some astronomers believe life may still be possible on Proxima B, as the atmosphere could be replenished by volcanoes, chemical reactions, or impacts from comets. This alien world might also support liquid oceans, which could provide refuge for alien life there.

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