The ever-difficult search for another habitable planet just got a little bit more questionable. NASA had been closing in on an exoplanet by the name of Proxima Centauri B as a planet that checked all of the boxes for potential habitability. NASA had been researching the exoplanet when it finally was revealed that there might be more atmospheric issues than originally believed. Despite landing in the habitable zone around its nearby star, potentially strong winds from that same star may have whisked away the atmosphere of the planet — thus ruining at least our hopes for Proxima Centauri B to be the solution to an existential problem hanging over the heads of the human race.
Scientists at Princeton University released a study that focused on how the charged particles emitted from the nearby star may have been the death knell for the potentially habitable planet. According to the research, led by Chuanfei Dong, strong activity from the nearby star would be enough to completely erode and erase the atmosphere of Proxima Centauri B. Of course, the erosion of the atmosphere wasn’t an instant thing. According to the same research, it would take millions of years for the atmosphere to be completely degraded. Scientists postulate that the same thing could have happened to Mars, another planet that had or has potential to be habitable with potential terraforming in the future. Dong goes on to say, “But the stellar wind can significantly contribute to the long-term erosion and atmospheric loss of many exoplanets, so the climate models tell only part of the story.”
Proxima Centauri B is located roughly four light-years away from Earth and it was first discovered back in 2016. Dong’s paper focused first on how long an atmosphere could survive the solar proximity that Proxima Centauri B had in relation to its main star. The second portion of the paper focused on so-called ‘water worlds’ and how they would stand up to these same atmospheric problems. The development of life is not an overnight process and can take billions of years, so these water-based worlds would have to endure for a long time in order to create habitable potential. Dong goes on to say, “Our results indicate that Proxima Centauri B and similar exoplanets are generally not capable of supporting an atmosphere over sufficiently long timescales.” The search for a habitable planet continues and humanity eagerly awaits a solution.