Washington Professor Asks Could Newly Found Planet Support Life?

Sep 1, 2016

Late last month, scientists announced they had found an Earth-like planet around a nearby star. Faraway planets, known as exoplanets, have been found before but this one is relatively close to our sun and is in what’s called the habitable zone around its own star. A researcher from Washington says that means it could be in a position to support life.

Rory Barnes is a professor of astronomy and astrobiology at the University of Washington. After scientists found the planet, known as Proxima b, they asked Barnes to theorize whether it could support life.

He says they don’t know if it’s rocky like earth, or a gas planet. All they do know is that it orbits Proxima Centauri every eleven days and they know its mass is similar to Earth. But it is in the “sweet spot” for a planet to host life.

He says the discovery is important to life on Earth.

“A lot of people do at least wonder are we it? Is this the only inhabited world in the universe? And finding worlds like Proxima b can help us understand whether that’s true or not,” says Barnes.

He says Proxima b could help scientists learn whether Earth is unique, or one of many.

“This is the only habitable planet we know of, we don’t know of any other world that hosts life, so we don’t know how our lives and our society fits into the universe,” Barnes says.

He says they need to learn more about the planet, before they can guess whether it has life. It may be close to our sun, but it would still take a probe from Earth 60,000 years to reach it. So for now, scientists will have to use telescopes to study Proxima b.

Speculation about life on other worlds, and more about the planet’s discovery, will be the focus of a public talk Friday night at 7:30 p.m. by Boise State Professor Brian Jackson. After the talk, the Physics Department will set out telescopes. Proxima b is too far away to see this way, but Jackson says people can see Mars, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune.

Find Samantha Wright on Twitter @samwrightradio

Copyright 2016 Boise State Public Radio