NASA Reports: Proxima b May Be Habitable

You remember the news from two months ago, about which we wrote Proxima Centauri Has Planet in Habitable Zone.

Creationists were quick to announce their reactions. The first was the Discovery Institute — see Discoveroids: Proxima b Is the Big Test. Klinghoffer, hoping the planet would turn out to be lifeless (because the intelligent designer — blessed be he! — created Earth as a “privileged planet”) declared:

All is celebration until it sinks in that with every discovery of a seemingly near-Earth-like planet, evolutionism comes a step closer to a put-up-or-shut-up moment.

[…]

The more Earth-like the exoplanet, the closer it is and the easier to probe for any signature of life, the more materialism may be forced to consider the possibility that a key premise was in error.

Then we heard from a creationist denomination — see Baptist Reactions to Proxima b Discovery. They had several reactions. Most were concerned with the idea that that aliens were cursed by the sin of Adam & Eve, and might not be eligible for salvation.

After that we wrote Answers in Genesis and Proxima Centauri b. One of ol’ Hambo’s creation scientists consulted scripture and announced:

From this we conclude that the earth truly is unique and that there are no earth-like planets. We find that the best science available agrees with this.

The problem for creationists is their insistence that everything worth knowing is in a book based on humanity’s knowledge from 3,000 years ago. Scientists, however, keep learning more, and every time something new is discovered, creationists are compelled go deeper into denial. It’s fun to watch them squirm.

Now they’ll have to squirm some more, because today, the website of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has this headline: Study: Planet Orbiting Nearest Star Could be Habitable. Here are some excerpts, with bold font added by us for emphasis:

A rocky extrasolar planet with a mass similar to Earth’s was recently detected around Proxima Centauri, the nearest star to our sun. This planet, called Proxima b, is in an orbit that would allow it to have liquid water on its surface, thus raising the question of its habitability. In a study to be published in The Astrophysical Journal Letters, an international team led by researchers at the Marseille Astrophysics Laboratory (CNRS/Aix-Marseille Université) has determined the planet’s dimensions and properties of its surface, which actually favor its habitability.

We can’t give you a link to their paper because it hasn’t been published yet, so We’ll rely on NASA. They tell us:

The team says Proxima b could be an “ocean planet,” with an ocean covering its entire surface, the water perhaps similar to that of subsurface oceans detected inside icy moons around Jupiter and Saturn. The researchers also show that Proxima b’s composition might resemble Mercury’s, with a metal core making up two-thirds of the mass of the planet. These results provide the basis for future studies to determine the habitability of Proxima b.

How did they determine that? We’re told:

[V]ery little is known about Proxima b, particularly its radius. It is therefore impossible to know what the planet looks like, or what it is made of. The radius measurement of an exoplanet is normally done during transit, when it eclipses its star. But Proxima b is not known to transit.

There is another way to estimate the radius of a planet. If we know its mass, we can simulate the behavior of the constituent materials. This is the method used by a French-American team of researchers from the Marseille Astrophysics Laboratory (CNRS/Aix-Marseille University) and the Department of Astronomy at Cornell University. With the help of a model of internal structure, they explored the different compositions that could be associated with Proxima b and deduced the corresponding values for the radius of the planet.

The next several paragraphs describe the methodology of the study. Rather than just copy that material, we’ll let you click over there to read it if you like. One possible conclusion of the study is this:

Proxima b can also have a radius of 5,543 miles (8,920 kilometers), provided that it is composed of 50 percent rock surrounded by 50 percent water. In this case, Proxima b would be covered by a single liquid ocean 124 miles (200 kilometers) deep. Below, the pressure would be so strong that liquid water would turn to high-pressure ice before reaching the boundary with the mantle to 1,926 miles (3,100 kilometers) depth. In these extreme cases, a thin gas atmosphere could cover the planet, as on Earth, making Proxima b potentially habitable.

But they say it could also be a dry planet. NASA finishes with this:

Future observations of Proxima Centauri will refine this study. In particular, the measurement of stellar abundances of heavy elements (magnesium, iron, silicon) will decrease the number of possible compositions for Proxima b, allowing determination more accurate radius Proxima b.

At present, we have no solid information about conditions on Proxima b. It may be habitable, or it may not be. That gives the creationists a little bit of breathing space, but they’ve got to be getting scared.

Copyright © 2016. The Sensuous Curmudgeon. All rights reserved.

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4 responses to “NASA Reports: Proxima b May Be Habitable

  1. Even if Earth is the only life-bearing planet in the universe (unlikely but possible), that doesn’t prove evolution didn’t happen here.

    It’s worth remembering that at one time astronomers believed planetary systems might be freakishly rare, and that therefore Earth might be unique–but that didn’t make them abandon evolution, because unlike creationists they understood that the evidence pointed Darwin’s way as far as life’s development on our planet was concerned.

  2. All is celebration until it sinks in that with every discovery of a seemingly near-Earth-like planet, evolutionism comes a step closer to a put-up-or-shut-up moment.

    That’s OK! If this doesn’t work out, there are probably a few hundred million more such discoveries coming along in the short or long term. We can wait.

    But for every one of these, creationists are betting the farm on an inside straight!

  3. No, they’re betting everything on a pair of kings and an ace kicker, only there’s many billion random hands in the game, from as many different decks with all kinds of different cards. What’s the odds that someone, somewhere, has pulled a Royal flush, or three chariots, or a hanged-man high straight right-handed flush, or a double whammy with pineapple clusters?

  4. Eddie Janssen

    This could become an enormous incentive for developing high speed (really, really high speed) space travel. It is no longer a theoretical wish to develop interstellar travel, now there is a real tangible goal.