May 16, 2017

New research says exoplanet could support life

M. Kornmesser / ESO

Proxima B, an Earth-sized planet orbiting our nearest neighboring star, could support life, astronomers report in a new study.

Why it matters: Since the discovery of Proxima B was first announced last summer, researchers have speculated about whether life could exist on the "second Earth." It's distance from its star allows for water to exist on the surface but it also means the planet could be bombarded with X-rays and UV radiation. New climate models by researchers at the University of Exeter found Proxima B could be habitable under a range of conditions.

What they did: Using a climate model of Earth, the researchers simulated the climate on Proxima B by changing the planet's speed of rotation, varying its orbit and trying different atmospheric compositions.

What's needed: Actual data about Proxima B's atmosphere. In the simulations carried out by University of Exeter scientists, life's chances on the planet hinge on it having an atmosphere like Earth's. That key detail needs to be determined by observations from probes.

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