After years of research, astronomers have discovered an Earth-like planet named Proxima b, making it the closest exoplanet to our solar system.
Proxima Centauri is the closest star to planet Earth, and has been the main focus for astronomers in the past week after Proxima b was discovered. Because Proxima b is within the habitable zone, this could mean a new possible home for human life outside of planet Earth. This leads to the question: Can humans one day inhabit this new found planet?
Before everyone starts packing their luggage and venture out to Proxima b, there are several factors that can put the trip on hold.
Proxima b has a rocky surface, and according to Space. com, it’s at least as massive as planet Earth¬ if not more so. But one question remains to be answered: Does Proxima b have an atmosphere?
Like many astronomers questioning this subject, University of Nebraska at Omaha astronomy professor Dr. Vincent Woolf is not sure if this question can be answered at the moment.
“We don’t know even if it has an atmosphere; we can’t say we don’t know if it doesn’t,” Woolf said. “We don’t know what the atmosphere is made of, nobody knows yet.”
Because of this unanswered question, researchers don’t know if liquid water is able to exist on Proxima b. The planet’s surface temperature is also unanswered because it depends on an atmosphere. It’s still uncertain at the moment, but may be very likely.
For humans to one-day walk on Proxima b, one will have to wait a while for this to happen. It may take decades, if not another century before exploration is made to Proxima b.
Proxima b may be the closest exoplanet orbiting the star at four light years away, but is farther away than most people think, according to Woolf.
“The fastest aircraft we’ve built was 10 thousandth the speed of light,” Woolf said. “This (Proxima b) is 4.25 light years away. It’ll take a big change in technology in order for exploration to occur. It may be in the next 50 years, and that’s being optimistic, we may never develop that.”
Proxima b is about 4.25 light years away according to CNN. To put it in perspective, that is 266,000 times the distance between planet Earth and the sun. Both are 92.96 miles apart from each other. It may be the closest terrestrial planet near our solar system, but it’s still far from home.
Whether or not humans will one day get there, Proxima b brings excitement to astronomers and the whole world alike. Will Proxima b be habitable in the coming decades? Who knows for sure, but there is something out there to cause wonder. Like astronomers all over the world, Woolf knows there is something out there outside our solar system.
“It’s interesting; it’s fascinating. The idea that there is an Earth like planet around this star close to us,” Woolf said. “I believe it, I don’t know it yet, and that’s the way science should work. You don’t know it til a lot of people have had the chance to look at it and test it, but it looks pretty good.”