Ocean World Nearby: Near-Earth Exoplanet Proxima B Could Have a Lot of Water

Feb 06, 2017 09:52 AM EST

Proxima b is one of the most popular exoplanets -- not just because it's an exoplanet in itself, but it's one of the closest to Earth. Now, recent studies are suggesting that it may actually be habitable.

According to a report from Futurism, Proxima b is just 4.2 light-years away, making it the nearest exoplanet that may actually contain life. It's tidally locked to Proxima Centauri, the star that it orbits, which means that one side of the exoplanet faces its star to complete an 11.2-year rotation. Also, the red dwarf Proxima Centauri and its distance make the planet smack right in the Goldilocks Zone -- a region around a star that may support life.

This location is particularly important because a team of researchers currently studying Proxima b has concluded that the planet may not "just" contain water, but may actually be an ocean planet. This means that it may have an ocean covering its entire surface like some moons surrounding Jupiter and Saturn.

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Space notes that to figure out just how much water Proxima b has, the current investigative team from the National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS) in France need to use simulations that could estimate the exoplanet's statistics.

The outlet added that the planet's radius may be between 0.94 to 1.4 times that of Earth, meaning the dense planet may have a metallic core surrounded by a rocky mantle, with surface water of about 0.05 percent of the exoplanet's mass.

However, this is just the lowest limit of the exoplanet. The maximum limit would have the exoplanet's radius at 8,920 kilometers, with a mass equally divided between a rocky core and its surrounding water. This would make the exoplanet surrounded by a liquid ocean that's 200 kilometers deep.

Both cases would mean that Proxima b may be covered with a thin, gassy atmosphere like that of Earth. This is possible, despite Proxima b's closeness to Proxima Centauri, where the habitable zone is 25 times closer than in the Solar System. However, scientists can only confirm such observations with the James Webb Telescope, which will be launched in 2018.

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