Finding planets outside our solar system is a challenge, and determining the size, composition and surface conditions of such planets is even more difficult. Find out if life could exist in an exoplanet, based on all the previous information? Well, that's a challenge as difficult as an astronomer can imagine, but the Cornell researchers are doing exactly that.
In a new study published in Monthly notices from the Royal Astronomical Society, scientists at the Cornell Carl Sagan Institute reveal that conditions in the nearby Proxima-b exoplanet may be close to what is considered appropriate for life to take hold.
Proxima-b is a planet orbiting the nearby star Proxima Centauri. Proxima Centauri is a red dwarf, which could be a good candidate to promote habitable worlds around it, but declaring Proxima-b as habitable has resulted in scientists pausing. The exoplanet is incredibly close to its star, completing an orbit in just over 11 Earth days (compared to our own 365-day year).
Because of that, the planet is bombarded with radiation from its star in a much larger amount. As the Cornell researchers explain, the exoplanet sees more than 250 times the X-ray radiation that the Earth, and the potentially deadly UV radiation in greater intensity than our own planet.
However, scientists argue that none of this is necessarily a breaking factor when it comes to the search for life, and Earth can be our best example of that fact. In their recently published article, researchers note that early Earth experienced even more intense UV radiation but still managed to be adequate for life.
It is possible, then, that the conditions in which life first emerged on Earth may be present in other exoplanets, such as Proxima-b, and that the biological process is already functioning despite the apparently hostile environment. The researchers summarize this in the study as follows:
Since the primitive Earth was inhabited, we showed that UV radiation should not be a limiting factor for the habitability of the planets that orbit the M-stars. Our closest neighbor worlds remain intriguing targets for the search for life beyond our system. solar.
Looking to the future, Proxima-b may be a prime candidate for humanity's first interstellar exploration efforts. At a distance of less than five light years from Earth, it is our closest option, and if we are looking for life, it seems that we still can not discard it.
Image source: Carnegie