Grab A Surfboard, Our Nearest Exoplanet Proxima B Could Be A Waterworld

10.07.16 3 weeks ago

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Earlier this year, the European Southern Observatory discovered Proxima b, an exoplanet orbiting red dwarf star Proxima Centauri, our closest neighbor 4.2 light years away. The planet is orbiting its star at a distance that could sustain liquid water on its surface, and a new study suggests the planet could be entirely covered by a single ocean. Dibs. We call dibs. Hopefully the high stellar wind pressure there doesn’t make it like the water-covered planet in Interstellar (pictured above) with constant tidal waves. Even so, we still called dibs, and we’re going to Ono Ozaki those sick waves on our boards, brah.

Anyway, a team led by researchers at the Marseille Astrophysics Laboratory estimated [.pdf] different possible compositions for the exoplanet based on what we know so far. We don’t know the radius of the planet, which is where the researchers’ estimates come in. We do know that Proxima b’s mass is 1.3 times that of Earth and it orbits extremely close to its star (one tenth the distance between the Sun and Mercury), with an 11.3 day orbit. This is normal for a possibly-habitable planet orbiting a red dwarf, due to the much lower luminosity of the red dwarf.

The researchers estimated the radius of Proxima b to be between 0.94 and 1.4 times the Earth’s radius. The smaller radius would likely mean a dense metal-cored planet similar to Mercury which may have no water (boooooo). The larger radius would be a planet that could be up to 50% water, meaning a surface covered in a single liquid ocean up to 124 miles (200 km) deep, as well as the possibility of a thin gas atmosphere.

NASA released an artist’s rendering of what the sky might look like there, with a red-tinted star that appears three times larger than our Sun:

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