Is Proxima b a Water World?
Proxima Centauri B, aka Proxima b, sits right outside of our solar system. In fact, as far as exoplanets go, it is the best chance we have at studying an exoplanet up close and personal. Proxima b was discovered only a few months ago, and at first was thought to be within the habitable zone – meaning that it is within range of a sun, as we are, and that there could be possibilities of it sustaining life! This was a very exciting discovery for astronomers and scientists alike. However, their celebration was short-lived as new research indicates that that the planet may not be as habitable as it was originally thought.
This new research shows evidence that the Proxima b may actually be a “Water World.” A water world is a hypothetical planet in which the planet’s entire surface is covered by water. In most cases the majority of the planet’s mass is made up of water. Should there be any solid matter within the planet, it would most likely be compacted towards the planet’s center.
The surfacing of this evidence has inspired scientists to begin analyzing hypothetical water worlds using Proxima b as an example. Several studies have produced theories about water bearing exoplanets and whether or not they are habitable as well as how we might determine which exoplanets are water worlds and which are not. One study, performed by researchers at the University of Bern, has determined that the majority of planets within habitable zones of red dwarf stars have a good chance of being a water world. This study has been accepted for publication in the Astronomy and Astrophysics Journal.
Scientists at the University of Bern have actually created a simulation that depicts habitable planets that are within range of red dwarf stars to try and determine which could potentially be water worlds. This simulation has actually produced some interesting results. In 90% of the trials that were run, water accounted for more than 10% of the planet’s mass, having deep oceans and a possible layer of ice at the bottom. As a comparison, the surface of our own planet is 70% water, yet it really only contributes to about 0.2% of our planet’s mass.
Up until recently, most research indicated that the best place to look for life was within the habitable zone of a red dwarf star. Now, this may no longer be the case. Planets that are overly rich in water could lead to unstable climates and atmospheres that mainly consist of CO2.
However, don’t let this news discourage you. At the end of the day, the fact remains that this evidence is simply the result of a simulation, and the only way to determine whether or not a planet may contain life is to physically voyage there.
Where there is water, there is a chance of life.