Astronomers announced that one of the stars from Proxima Centauri might host a planet that has the size of the Earth, and it can also be habitable. Proxima b would be an exciting prospect for extraterrestrial life or an alternative home for humanity.
Further studies will be made by using the James Webb Space Telescope, and the researchers hope to have some answers in the next three years.
The astronomers find it hard to believe that life could exist in a system like Proxima Centauri, as the stars have a low mass and the planets around them may even not have an atmosphere.
A team of Harvard astronomers published a paper explaining how JWST could help answer all these questions in a matter of days.
Proxima b is believed not having an atmosphere because the planet orbits Proxima Centauri at a distance of 4.6 million miles. In comparison, Earth is situated at 93 million miles away from the Sun.
Moreover, Proxima Centauri is a red dwarf star, unlike the Sun which is thought to be a middle-aged star.
The close distance to the Proxima Centauri may create perfect conditions for life on Proxima b. The researchers believe that the temperature might be similar to those on Earth, and they even believe in the existence of liquid water.
However, the same close distance might make the planet be subjected to powerful solar winds. Another consequence is that Proxima b might be tidally locked, which means that it has a permanent dayside, and the other side would be permanently in the dark.
Other studies related to tidally locked planets showed that their atmosphere is very vulnerable, and it can collapse at any given time. On the other hand, volcanic activity could help replenish the air. A strong magnetic field could also contribute to keeping the atmosphere intact.
Having an atmosphere is directly connected to having oceans, and the researchers will look for evidence concerning both.
The new JWST will help scientists detect the difference in temperature between the day and the night side, and the content of its atmosphere.
As the Breakthrough Starshot project plans to travel to Alpha Centauri, the researchers believe that the microcrafts will have a new target. In addition to the information that will be offered by the new telescope, the private space exploration program will have to be directed towards specific goals, completing the image on Proxima b, a planet that may be our new home.
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