Astronomers and astrophysicists from France’s National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS) claim that Proxima Centauri b (Proxima b), the exoplanet closest to our Solar System, could have an ocean of liquid water that can support life. The study, to be published in The Astrophysical Journal Letters, says that the water on this planet comprises up to 0.05 percent of its total mass.
The small, single liquid ocean could be as deep as 200 kilometers or 124 miles, the research team speculates. They believe that microbial life could be capable of surviving in such condition.
Proxima b, which was just discovered in August, is a planet with a radius of 3,722 miles (5,590 kilometers), located 4.25 light years from us. Experts believe that this exoplanet is very dense and has a metallic core, which occupies two-thirds of its mass.
It orbits Proxima Centauri, a red dwarf star fainter than the sun that composes, along with two other stars, the Alpha Centauri system. The planet is in an area that scientists consider a habitable zone.
“The planet could be an ‘ocean planet’, with an ocean covering its entire surface, and similar water to some icy moons around Jupiter or Saturn,” the research team stated. “Contrary to what one might expect, such proximity does not necessarily mean that Proxima b’s surface is too hot for water to exist in liquid form.”
Computer simulations also estimate that the exoplanet has a thin atmosphere and temperatures that allow the ocean to remain in its place instead of evaporating away into space.
Spaceflight Insider reports that the Russian billionaire Yuri Milner said that he plans to use lasers to fly small satellites, also called nanocafts, to Proxima Centauri. The billionaire believes that this method, which is slower than the speed of light, would allow astronauts and other space explorers to travel to the site in just 20 years.