ICYMI: A New Planet

Jayme Bailey

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On August 24, 2016, an exoplanet named Proxima B was found orbiting just outside Proxima Centauri, the closest star to our sun. But this is not like any other planet discovery, Proxima B is now sitting in the habitable zone. Proxima B shares a lot of similar characteristics with Earth, like its size. This could mean that Proxima B has the potential to host liquid water, thus having the possibility to hold life.

The one downside of this great discovery is that Proxima B is 4.2 light years away. In Earth years, that would take 17,900 years to reach Proxima B. This is one of the biggest problems with finding out if the planet has the ability to host life or not.

Scientists need to get a picture of Proxima B to see if it has an atmosphere. If Proxima B does not have an atmosphere, the water believed to be liquid will most likely be solid and that will eliminate the ability to find any life, or our ability to inhabit the planet.

“I think it would be hard to tell if [Proxima B] can host liquid water based on scientists not knowing if it has an atmosphere or not,” science teacher Stacy Terlep said. “In my opinion, that is a very important detail to determine if it hosts liquid water or not. If the planet did not lose its water in its creation stage and an atmosphere is present, it could very well host liquid water.”

The only way we can discover if this alien planet can be habitable is by getting a photo of Proxima B, but how long will this take?

“It depends upon your reference of time,” science department chair Gregory Bays said. “I think the near future, as in the next five to ten years. No, probably not. But if you’re talking about the next 50 to 100 years. Then maybe it is a possibility. It just depends on our space exploration and the speeds at which we see things increase. We got pictures of Pluto relatively closeup, but the satellite that took that picture took 20 years to get close enough to Pluto. For it to get to Proxima B, it would depend upon the investment we put into the space exploration of it.”

Just because scientists may not be able to obtain a picture relatively soon, does not mean the possibilities and hope for this discovery should be diminished. It took scientists 15 years to make it to the point in the discovery that we are at now.

“It is just really exciting to be honest,” Bays said. “One of the most exciting things about [Proxima B] is that there is so much potential in it. We could get there and see nothing but rock and desert. However, we could get there and just see green and life everywhere. It is that thought of what could be there that makes this discovery so interesting.”    

Despite the long time frame, many people are excited about Proxima B and what it has in store. This major astronomical discovery is slowly becoming a reality as we learn more about Proxima B. The possibilities for this exoplanet are endless and should not be forgotten.