Written by Bryce Getchell | @Porkfryedbryce
Proxima Centauri B (also known as Proxima b) is the closest world outside of our Solar System. As far as exoplanets go, it is the best chance we have at actually studying (and potentially someday voyaging to) an exoplanet up close and personal. After its discovery, scientists speculated that Proxima b is actually within the habitable zone; meaning that it is within range of a sun, as we are, and there could be possibilities of it sustaining life! However, new research indicates that this may no longer be the case.
Contrary to what everyone had hoped about Proxima b, new research shows evidence that the planet may actually be a “Water World.” A water world is a hypothetical planet in which the whole surface is covered by water. In most cases the majority of its mass is water. Any solid matter would most likely be compacted towards the center of the planet.
This new discovery has inspired scientists to analyze these hypothetical water worlds using this new evidence from Proxima b. The result has produced several studies and theories about water bearing exoplanets. One study performed by researchers at the University of Bern have 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.
A simulation of habitable planets within range of red dwarf stars, created by scientists of the University of Bern, has produced some interesting results about how many planets may consist of water. In 90% of the trials run, water accounted for more than 10% of the planet’s mass, having deep oceans and a possible layer of ice at the bottom. While the surface of our own planet is 70% water, it really only contributes to about 0.2% of our planet’s mass.
Up until now, most research indicates that the best place to look for life is within the habitable zone of a red dwarf star. Now, this may no longer be the case. Planets overly rich in water could lead to unstable climates and have atmospheres consisting mostly in CO2.
While this may seem like discouraging news, the fact is that this evidence is run by 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.