The discovery of Proxima B back in August has generated excitement throughout the scientific community.
The discovery of a mysterious planet around Proxima Centauri, the closest star to us at four light years away, has prompted excitement from scientists due to the fact that its conditions could support liquid water and its mass is only a little more than our own world. So is Proxima B the future home of humanity? Before we can say that, there are a few things to consider.
Leaving aside the difficulty of getting to a planet that is four light years away, considering we have nowhere near the technology to cross such a vast distance in a survivable period of time, there are several challenging differences that make adaption not so easy for our species.
For one thing, Proxima Centauri, the sun of that solar system, is a red dwarf staller that is much smaller and dimmer than our sun. Planets, as a result, have to be closer to the star to receive warmth, meaning larger tidal forces.
On that planet, a year would only be 11 days. And because the planet is tidally locked and may have a perfect circular orbit, there wouldn’t be any seasons on the planet.
A solar flare could be deadly to anyone on the permanent day side of Proxima B. And even when there aren’t solar flares, one side would always be baked by the sun, while the other side would be bathed in darkness, leaving just a ring of eternal dusk/sunrise.
“At a distance of 1.295 parsecs1, the red dwarf Proxima Centauri (α Centauri C, GL 551, HIP 70890 or simply Proxima) is the Sun’s closest stellar neighbour and one of the best-studied low-mass stars,” states the abstract from the paper published in Nature. “It has an effective temperature of only around 3,050 kelvin, a luminosity of 0.15 per cent of that of the Sun, a measured radius of 14 per cent of the radius of the Sun2 and a mass of about 12 per cent of the mass of the Sun. Although Proxima is considered a moderately active star, its rotation period is about 83 days (ref. 3) and its quiescent activity levels and X-ray luminosity4 are comparable to those of the Sun. Here we report observations that reveal the presence of a small planet with a minimum mass of about 1.3 Earth masses orbiting Proxima with a period of approximately 11.2 days at a semi-major-axis distance of around 0.05 astronomical units. Its equilibrium temperature is within the range where water could be liquid on its surface5.”