The closest star to our sun, only 4.2 light-years away, a cool red dwarf called Proxima Centauri resides. Around it, Proxima Centauri b, an Earth-sized exoplanet orbits every ll days. And, because of the particular details of that star and that planet, it’s very possible that Proxima Centauri b could be “highly habitable”. 

Proxima Centauri b is in its star’s habitable zone, meaning it is at a distance that would potentially have liquid water, and the ability to support life. So, it’s been of great interest to scientists since its discovery in 2016. Because the planet is likely tidally locked due to gravitational forces, so only one side of it ever faces its star. One side is always day and the other always night. And, therefore, one side must be baked and the other, frozen.  

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Initial simulations trying to determine what’s going on on Proxima Centauri b showed that might be true, with an ocean locked, frozen, on the night side and the star side generally fried. But, new, more advanced simulations showed that a circulating ocean could flow around the planet and transfer heat to the dark side, keeping the ocean liquid. According to space.com, “The team ran 18 separate simulation scenarios in total, looking at the effects of giant continents, thin atmospheres, different atmospheric compositions and even changes in the amount of salt in the global ocean. In almost all of the models, Proxima Centauri b ended up having open ocean that persisted over at least some part of its surface.”

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And, even better than that, Anthony Del Genio, a planetary scientist at the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies said, “The larger the fraction of the planet with liquid water, the better the odds that if there’s life there, we can find evidence of that life with future telescopes”.  

So, get ready for some new friends… and let’s hope that they don’t destroy us. 

 

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