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Space Weather for Proxima B Revealed -- Is it Still Considered Habitable?

Apr 04, 2017 11:47 AM EDT
NASA Telescope Reveals Seven Earth-sized Planets Around Single Star
Astronomers say that the harsh conditions around a dwarf star could prevent Proxima b from having an atmosphere. Although they admitted that the relationship of space weather and the exoplanets are still subject to further studies.
(Photo : NASA/NASA via Getty Images)

The sudden shift of attention to Alpha Centauri was due to the European Space Observatory's (ESO) announcement that there might be a habitable planet in the nearby star system. Proxima b is believed to be in the habitable zone and recent data reveals the space weather conditions of the exoplanet.

Proxima Centauri is located about 4.28 light-years away from Earth. Because of its distance, very little is known about the star system, but it is believed to house the next habitable planet called Earth 2.0.

Despite the distance, scientists are rigorously studying the habitability of Proxima b. Some of its properties are believed to be similar to Earth, making it a candidate for the next habitable planet. One of the characteristics it apparently has is space weather.

Experts say that "M dwarf stars" affect its planets, just like the center of Alpha Centauri. The radiation, in the form of UV and X-rays, is evident. This could make or break an atmosphere, even those in the habitable zone. The star's magnetism and stellar winds in the region are also vital factors in atmospheric survival.

"Stellar winds are likely a source of atmospheric erosion that could be particularly severe in the case of M dwarf habitable zone planets that reside close to their parent star," according to a joint paper submitted by astronomers Cecilia Garraffo, Jeremy Drake and Ofer Cohen.

The astronomers conducted a study to analyze the pressure of stellar winds. Based on the study, the pressure on the exoplanet Proxima b is 1,000 to 10,000 higher compared to the solar wind pressure on Earth. The non-uniform pressure also makes Proxima b's atmosphere compress and expand up to three times a day. Proxima b is also prone to supersonic wind conditions.

Most of the findings could be deterrent to the habitability of Proxima b because most of the weather conditions could lead to the depletion of its atmosphere.

However, the study also suggests that the M dwarf star and its relationship to its exoplanets are still subject to further studies.

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