Scientists take first tentative steps to explore potential climate of Proxima B

May 16, 2017, University of Exeter
The two bright stars are (left) α Centauri and (right) β Centauri. The faint red star in the centre of the red circle is Proxima Centauri. Credit: Wikipedia

The quest to discover whether a planet orbiting our closest neighbouring star, Proxima Centauri (4.2 light years or 25 trillion miles from Earth), has the potential to support life has taken a new, exhilarating twist.

The planet was only discovered in August 2016, and is thought to be of similar size to Earth, creating the possibility that it could have an `Earth-like' atmosphere. Scientists from the University of Exeter have embarked on their first, tentative steps to explore the potential of the exoplanet, known as Proxima B.

Early studies have suggested that the planet is in the habitable zone of its star Proxima Centauri - the region where, given an Earth-like atmosphere and suitable structure, it would receive the right amount of light to sustain on its surface.

Now, the team of astrophysics and meteorology experts have undertaken new research to explore the potential climate of the planet, towards the longer term goal of revealing whether it has the potential to support life.

Using the state-of-the-art Met Office Unified Model, which has been successfully used to study the Earth's climate for several decades, the team simulated the climate of Proxima B if it were to have a similar atmospheric composition to our own Earth.

The team also explored a much simpler atmosphere, comprising of nitrogen with traces of , as well as variations of the orbit. This allowed them to both compare with, and extend beyond, previous studies.

Crucially, the results of the simulations showed that Proxima B could have the potential to be habitable, and could exist in a remarkably stable climate regime. However, much more work must be done to truly understand whether this planet can support, or indeed does support life of some form.

The research is published in leading scientific journal, Astronomy & Astrophyics, on Tuesday, May 16th 2017

Dr Ian Boutle, lead author of the paper explained: "Our research team looked at a number of different scenarios for the planet's likely orbital configuration using a set of simulations. As well as examining how the climate would behave if the planet was 'tidally-locked' (where one day is the same length as one year), we also looked at how an orbit similar to Mercury, which rotates three times on its axis for every two orbits around the sun (a 3:2 resonance), would affect the environment."

Dr James Manners, also an author on the paper added: "One of the main features that distinguishes this planet from Earth is that the light from its star is mostly in the near infra-red. These frequencies of light interact much more strongly with water vapour and carbon dioxide in the atmosphere which affects the climate that emerges in our model."

Using the Met Office software, the Unified Model, the team found that both the tidally-locked and 3:2 resonance configurations result in regions of the planet able to host liquid water. However, the 3:2 resonance example resulted in more substantial areas of the planet falling within this temperature range. Additionally, they found that the expectation of an eccentric orbit, could lead to a further increase in the "habitability" of this world.

Dr Nathan Mayne, scientific lead on exoplanet modelling at the University of Exeter and an author on the paper added: "With the project we have at Exeter we are trying to not only understand the somewhat bewildering diversity of exoplanets being discovered, but also exploit this to hopefully improve our understanding of how our own climate has and will evolve."

The University of Exeter has one of the UK's largest astrophysics groups working in the fields of star formation and exoplanet research. The group focuses on some of the most fundamental problems in modern astronomy, such as when do stars and planets form and how does this happen.

The group conduct observations with the world's leading telescopes and carry out numerical simulations to study young stars, their planet-forming discs, and exoplanets. This research helps to put our Sun and the solar system into context and understand the variety of stars and planetary systems that exist in our Galaxy.

"Exploring the climate of Proxima B with the Met Office Unified Model" by Ian Boutle, Nathan Mayne, Benjamin Drummond, James Manners, Jayesh Goyal, Hugo lambert, David Acreman and Paul Earnshaw is published in Astronomy & Astrophyics.

Explore further: The space weather forecast for Proxima Centauri B

Related Stories

The space weather forecast for Proxima Centauri B

April 3, 2017

Proxima Centauri, the closest star to the Earth (only 4.28 light-years away) is getting a lot of attention these days. It hosts a planet, Proxima Cen b, whose mass is about 1.3 Earth-mass (though it could be larger, depending ...

Image: Illustration of an Earth-sized 'Tatooine' planet

May 5, 2017

With two suns in its sky, Luke Skywalker's home planet Tatooine in "Star Wars" looks like a parched, sandy desert world. In real life, thanks to observatories such as NASA's Kepler space telescope, we know that two-star systems ...

Earth-sized 'Tatooine' planets could be habitable

April 12, 2017

With two suns in its sky, Luke Skywalker's home planet Tatooine in "Star Wars" looks like a parched, sandy desert world. In real life, thanks to observatories such as NASA's Kepler space telescope, we know that two-star systems ...

Recommended for you

New space industry emerges: on-orbit servicing

November 17, 2018

Imagine an airport where thousands of planes, empty of fuel, are left abandoned on the tarmac. That is what has been happening for decades with satellites that circle the Earth.

SpaceX gets nod to put 12,000 satellites in orbit

November 16, 2018

SpaceX got the green light this week from US authorities to put a constellation of nearly 12,000 satellites into orbit in order to boost cheap, wireless internet access by the 2020s.

Electric blue thrusters propelling BepiColombo to Mercury

November 16, 2018

In mid-December, twin discs will begin glowing blue on the underside of a minibus-sized spacecraft in deep space. At that moment Europe and Japan's BepiColombo mission will have just come a crucial step closer to Mercury.

Overflowing crater lakes carved canyons across Mars

November 16, 2018

Today, most of the water on Mars is locked away in frozen ice caps. But billions of years ago it flowed freely across the surface, forming rushing rivers that emptied into craters, forming lakes and seas. New research led ...


Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

not rated yet May 17, 2017
Well, wouldn't it be:

Sunny on the sunny side, and dark on the night side, for the next billion years....

And intense X-Rays and UV, today (which lasts and lasts), sooner or later, during the next routinely common flare.

And the air is a bit thin, as usual, since it was blown away by the solar wind a very long time ago.

And it will be another very dry day, with zero water left on the surface or the very thin air, since the molecules of water got dissociated by radiation and then streamed off the atmosphere alone with other gases, long ago.

1 / 5 (1) May 30, 2017
Yet, Proxima b hosts spacemobile sentient life, the Cenos ET aliens who have been visiting Earth for at least 4300 years:

The new EILF claim that they have aided humans in the past. Evidence from the ancient Akkadian civilization suggest that just such a 'god-like being' provided astronomical information that only modern day humans could be aware of.

The non-technological alien is a large eight limbed being without eyes, but still able to see and hear. They do not reproduce by themselves, but apparently by (perhaps involuntarily) another animal. They may possess the most amazing intellectual characterizes (i.e. being able to foresee the future). They may be a frequent visitor to Earth as 'tourists'. The technological alien is a tall (8.5') biped somewhat similar in structure to a human but with a different physiology.
1 / 5 (1) May 30, 2017
Note that a tidally locked planet in the liquid water zone of Proxima Centauri was revealed August 2012, four years before astronomers found it circa August 2016.


It is also important to recognize that this amphibian species lives on a planet whose dark side is likely covered with Ice much like Earth's Antarctica and politicians and others have been intensely visiting Antarctica recently.


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.