Proxima b: Planet that could support human life ‘may have oceans’

A handout image made available by the European Southern Observatory on August 24, 2016, shows an artist's impression of the planet Proxima b orbiting the red dwarf star Proxima Centauri, the closest star to the Solar System. © M. Kornmesser
The recently discovered Proxima b planet in the “habitable zone” of Proxima Centauri, the closest star to the sun, may be covered in oceans.

But scientists are unsure if this new discovery is a good or bad thing for those hoping to relocate to another planet.

Researchers say the presence of water could mean the rocky planet has oceans just like Earth, or it could be that Proxima b is an “ocean planet” where its entire surface is completely covered in water.

READ MORE: ‘Proxima b’ move-in ready? Closest ever Earth-like planet confirmed by scientists

According to France’s CNRS research institute, the rocky extrasolar planet is in an orbit that allows it to have water on its surface, “thus raising the question of its habitability”.

The international team of astrophysicists have determined that the dimensions and properties of its surface reveal a mass that is close to that of Earth, “which actually favor its habitability”.  

It is likely to harbor liquid water at its surface and therefore to harbor life forms,” wrote CNRS.

However, it is impossible to know for sure what the planet looks like and what it’s composed of until it’s exact radius is determined.

The researchers have two theories based on maximum and minimum estimations for Proxima b’s radius. In the first instance, they say the planet is either very dense, like Mercury, and surface water would not make up more than 0.05 percent of the planet’s total mass.  

Or, in the bigger scenario, Proxima b would consist of 50 percent rocks and 50 percent water, and the planet would be completely covered by a single layer of ocean 200 kilometers deep.

In these extreme cases, a thin gas atmosphere could cover the planet, as on Earth, making Proxima b potentially habitable,” says CNRS.

Proxima b gained international attention when years of research into the planet showed it may have the right conditions to support life, all of which was published in the Nature journal last August.

Proxima b, which is 1.3 times the size of Earth, was found to be the planet most likely to harbor life - and as it’s located ‘just’ four light years away, it offers tantalizing possibilities as a site for human relocation.

Either way, the new discoveries lay the groundwork for further exploration and future studies to determine (once and for all) the planet’s habitability.