Proxima b, the Earth-like planet announced by astronomers in August, could host oceans and “some forms of life”, researchers said yesterday.
Astrophysicists at France’s CNRS calculated the likelihood of liquid water on its surface by modelling its size and distance from its star.
The researchers said in a statement: “The planet may very well host liquid water on its surface, and therefore also some forms of life.”
Proxima b is just 4.2 light years from Earth and is believed to be the first planet outside our solar system to one day be visited by robots from Earth.
With a mass of 1.3 times Earth, the planet orbits at 4.6m miles from its star – a tenth the distance from Mercury to the sun.
“Contrary to what one might expect, such proximity does not necessarily mean that Proxima b’s surface is too hot [for liquid water]”, according to a CNRS statement.
Proxima Centauri, its star, is 1,000 times weaker than the sun, meaning it may host the right conditions for life.
Normally, scientists estimate the size of planets by measuring how much light they block out when they pass their stars.
But no such journey has been captured by scientists so they had to rely on simulations instead.
They estimated that it would be surrounded by a thin, gassy atmosphere if it falls within the estimated limits of its size.
If it’s towards the higher end, it would be half rock and half water.
The statement said: “In this case, Proxima b would be covered by a single, liquid ocean 200 km deep.”