Fact Check: Is Newly Discovered Proxima b Planet Really Habitable for Humans?

George Tinari

You may have seen a new planet make its rounds across the Internet lately. Proxima b is the name and facilitating future human life is the game… or is it? The news circulating is that scientists have discovered a nearby planet, Proxima b, that supposedly has conditions similar to ours on Earth. Thus, it’s very possible that in the pursuit to eventually migrate from Earth, we as a species could colonize Promixa b.

We traditionally looked to Mars as a future home. Should we focus on Proxima b instead? | Photo: Shutterstock
We traditionally looked to Mars as a future home. Should we focus on Proxima b instead? | Photo: Shutterstock

But, it’s not nearly as easy as recent reports have suggested. We can’t exactly pack up our suitcases and make home on a new planet any time soon and likely not for hundreds of years to come. We also still have much to learn about Promixa b. So, what does this mysterious new planet offer us?

Proxima b is Still Extremely Far

We'd need to travel much close to the speed of light to get to Proxima b at a decent rate. | Photo: Shutterstock
We’d need to travel much close to the speed of light to get to Proxima b at a decent rate | Photo: Shutterstock

When reports indicate that Proxima b is nearby, they mean relative to the entire size of the universe. On that scale, Proxima b and Earth could be neighbors. But the reality is that Proxima b is 4.22 light years away.

One light year is the distance light travels in a calendar year, which is 365.25 days. It is about nine trillion kilometers or six trillion miles. Since as a human species we have yet to figure out how to travel at the speed of light (or even come remotely close) so that we can visit places light years away, there is currently no getting to Proxima b. We’ll need at least hundreds more years of science and technology to get us there.

Proxima b is 4.22 light years away, currently too far for humans.

However, the Breakthrough Starshot mission is a step in the right direction.

Living Conditions on Proxima b Are Largely Unknown

Proxima b might not even have an atmosphere the way Earth does. | Photo: Shutterstock
Proxima b might not even have an atmosphere the way Earth does | Photo: Shutterstock

It’s true that Proxima b exists within what’s called the “habitable zone” which means it’s in the right area for water to be a possibility there. It orbits a red dwarf though, which means the star is much cooler than our sun and Proxima b has to be much closer to obtain the same amount of heat we get from ours. This also means that the planet is likely tidally locked, so the same side is always facing its star — it never rotates.

Proxima b orbits a red dwarf.

Even more concerning is that we don’t have any information about its atmosphere or whether it even has one, whether it has any water or whether it has a magnetic field that protects against radiation. These are all key aspects to determining whether life is sustainable on the planet and we have not a clue about any of them.

Life Could Already Exist on Proxima b

Photo: Shutterstock
Even single-celled organisms would be nice | Photo: Shutterstock

While it’s a bit of a buzz kill that humans won’t make it to Proxima b for many, many years to come, perhaps Proxima b has a party of its own going on over there. If the conditions are right, perhaps we’ll discover that life is surviving and thriving on our new distant cousin. That doesn’t necessarily mean intelligent life, but any life forms would be a welcome discovery if it proves we’re not alone in the universe.

If the conditions are right, perhaps we’ll discover that life is surviving and thriving on our new distant cousin.

You can bet scientists are going to keep an eye on the planet and we’ll learn a lot more about it in the coming years and decades. Ultimately though, any news that Proxima b is essentially a new planet for us to live on is false. We don’t have an understanding about Proxima b just yet nor the capacity to get there. Instead, humans can simply wait with hope for the possibilities.

ALSO READ: The Secrets of Life: 4 Amazing Videos by Kurzgesagt That Try to Unlock Them

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George Tinari

Written By

George Tinari

George Tinari has written about technology for over seven years: guides, how-tos, news, reviews and more. He's usually sitting in front of his laptop, eating, listening to music or singing along loudly to said music. You can also follow him on Twitter @gtinari if you need more complaints and sarcasm in your timeline.