This new planet looks a LOT like Earth. This new planet looks a LOT like Earth. This new planet looks a LOT like Earth. (Artist's picture). (Photo: Argus/Shutterstock)

Our favorite Earth-like planet may be way too extreme for life

We were hoping nearby planet Proxima b could support life, but new research suggests otherwise.

A while ago, we wrote about Proxima b, a nearby planet (Only four light years away! Practically a day trip!) that scientists from the U.S., Israel, the U.K, Chile, Poland, Germany, Spain and France discovered. The researchers thought it seemed pretty similar to Earth, and we were hoping we'd find out it was our planet's twin, perhaps even home to life.

Unfortunately, our hopes may have been overblown. Scientists recently discovered that, while Proxima b shares a lot in common with our planet, it's likely missing one of our favorite parts of living on Earth: air.

Here's the problem: While we orbit the Sun, Proxima b orbits a really powerful red dwarf star that emits a lot of radiation. NASA published a study in The Astrophysical Journal Letters on July 24, 2017 explaining that this ... could be a problem.

The scientists conducted computer modeling, where they imagined what would happen if Earth, rather than Proxima b, were orbiting the red dwarf star.

"The question is, how much of the atmosphere is lost, and how quickly does that process occur?" asked Ofer Cohen, an Israeli scientist at the University of Massachusetts who co-authored the study. "If we estimate that time, we can calculate how long it takes the atmosphere to completely escape – and compare that to the planet's lifetime."

The scientists found that this powerful star would emit radiation that would strip away Earth's atmosphere. That means that, if Proxima b really is similar to Earth, its atmosphere is likely gone.

"Things can get interesting if an exoplanet holds on to its atmosphere, but Proxima b's atmospheric loss rates here are so high that habitability is implausible," explained Jeremy Drake, a British scientist at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics and co-author of the study. "This questions the habitability of planets around such red dwarfs in general."

No atmosphere means there's nothing to protect life from the star's deadly radiation.

Then again, who knows? Aliens on Proxima b may just look nothing like life on Earth. Perhaps they even have star-powered spaceships.

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