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A view of the surface of the planet Proxima b orbiting the red dwarf star Proxima Centauri, the closest star to our solar system, is seen in an undated artist's impression released by the European Southern Observatory, Aug. 24, 2016. Reuters

Our closest neighboring star, Proxima Centauri, lies 4.2 light-years away, and thanks to the Kepler telescope, astronomers discovered in August 2016 the exoplanet Proxima B orbiting the star, making it the closest planetary body discovered outside our solar system. The star itself has since been found to be more sun-like than previously thought, and the planet too is thought to be of a similar size as Earth.

Immediately after its discovery, speculation began about the existence of life on Proxima B, or at least the possibility of it, and scientists began trying to gather and analyze data to find an answer. There are theories that say the planet could be covered in liquid water oceans, and those that call it inhabitable due to the effect of stellar eruptions. And a new study of the planet says Proxima B could have a stable climate and be potentially habitable.

Read: Study Improves Chances Of Habitability Of Proxima B

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The planet Proxima b orbiting the red dwarf star Proxima Centauri, the closest star to our solar system, is seen in an undated artist's impression released by the European Southern Observatory, Aug. 24, 2016. Reuters

To be published Tuesday in the journal Astronomy & Astrophyics, the study used the Met Office Unified Model, a numerical forecasting model used by the United Kingdom’s meteorological department for studying Earth's climate. The model was fed data to simulate the climate of Proxima B if its atmospheric composition was the same as Earth’s, as well as variations including a nitrogen-heavy atmosphere with traces of carbon dioxide and changes to the planet’s orbit.

Lead author of the paper Ian Boutle, from the University of Exeter and the Met Office, explained in a statement: “Our research team looked at a number of different scenarios for the planet’s likely orbital configuration using a set of simulations. As well as examining how the climate would behave if the planet was ‘tidally-locked’ (where one day is the same length as one year), we also looked at how an orbit similar to Mercury, which rotates three times on its axis for every two orbits around the sun (a 3:2 resonance), would affect the environment.”

The researchers found the planet to have regions that could have liquid water under both the tidally-locked and 3:2 resonance configuration simulation scenarios, with the latter scenario bringing a larger area of the planet within the suitable temperature range. Also, if the orbit of the planet was considered to be eccentric, it increased Proxima B’s habitability further.

Read: NASA Looks For Alien Life, Starting In Chile’s Atacama Desert

James Manners, another author on the paper and from the university, added in the statement: “One of the main features that distinguishes this planet from Earth is that the light from its star is mostly in the near infra-red. These frequencies of light interact much more strongly with water vapor and carbon dioxide in the atmosphere which affects the climate that emerges in our model.”

The study is far from conclusive proof of Proxima B’s habitability, let alone the existence of life on the planet. The research team called it “their first, tentative steps to explore the potential climate of the exoplanet… towards the longer term goal of revealing whether it has the potential to support life.” The researchers added: “Much more work must be done to truly understand whether this planet can support, or indeed does support life of some form.”

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