Nearby Earth-Like World Proxima B May Have A Global Ocean

Proxima b, with its host star and its two neighboring planets in view. ESO/M. Kornmesser

Robin Andrews 07 Oct 2016, 16:11

This neighboring exoplanet has not yet been seen directly, but there is overwhelming indirect evidence that it’s real, and it’s hiding somewhere around its host red dwarf star, one that is 99.85 percent less luminous than our Sun.

Although the outer reaches of this star system are frigid, Proxima b happens to be orbiting so close to this cool star that its surface temperatures are hypothetically ideal for liquid water – and where there’s water, there’s life.

It’s tidally locked to the star, which means that one side is bathed in perpetual light, and the other is always shrouded in darkness. Initial reports put the temperature range of Proxima b at around -40°C (-40°F). If it has an atmosphere, as this new study implies, temperatures could be as high as 30°C (86°F) on its day-side and no lower than -30°C (-22°F) on its night-side.

This is more than suitable for a surficial ocean, whether it’s a global one or multiple, scattered ones much like Earth’s. The former isn’t a bizarre, outlandish hypothesis – global oceans are already known to exist. There’s one beneath the icy surface of Jupiter’s Europa, and another beneath Saturn’s Enceladus.

Fortunately, as Proxima b is within its star’s warm habitable zone, it is unlikely – at least on its day-side – to have an ice-capped ocean. In fact, if these new calculations are right, it could feature an ocean not too dissimilar from ours – and maybe, just maybe, it’s teeming with aquatic alien life.

Is this what Proxima b could really look like? Vadim Sadovski/Shutterstock

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