A Frozen Super-Earth Has Been Found in a Neighboring Star System

17 November, 2018, 16:00 | Author: Harriet Bell
  • Barnard's Star

Astronomers have discovered a frozen super-Earth in the second closest star system to Earth that might resemble the famous snowy world from the Star Wars universe.

The planet, known as Barnard's star b, is probably dimly lit by its star and slightly colder than Saturn.

This planet, as scholars have noted, is at a record great distance from the sun for red dwarfs. Now, they believe they have found an exoplanet around Barnard's star, which at 6 light-years away is the second-closest star system.

In a landmark discovery, an global team of astronomers led by Ignasi Ribas of the Institute of Space Studies of Catalonia (IEEC) and Institute of Space Sciences (IEEC- CSIC) has found a candidate planet orbiting Barnard's star. Experts have dubbed the planet Barnard's Star b, and despite the fact that it's surface temperature is minus 150 degrees Celsius, it could have pockets of liquid lakes beneath the icy exterior. A smaller star like Barnard's Star wobbles more than a more massive one, so even a small-ish planet like this one had some detectable effect.

"For the analysis we used observations from seven different instruments, spanning 20 years, making this one of the largest and most extensive datasets ever used for precise radial velocity studies", said Ignasi Ribas, of the Institut de Ciènces de l'Espai (ICE, CSIC), Spain, in a statement.

Professor Hugh Jones, from the University of Hertfordshire and a co-author on the paper, said: "The announcement of the planet has been a long time in the making; initial observations of the planet were made by Dr Paul Butler at the Carnegie Institution of Washington in June 1997".

Back in the 1960s Peter van de Kamp, a Dutch astronomer based in the United States, reported the discovery of two planets roughly the size of Jupiter orbiting the red dwarf. "We now have decades of archival data at our disposal". As it orbits one of the Solar system's closest neighbours, it presents a ideal target for future observations.

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Nearby planets like this are likely to be prime targets in the search for signatures of life, using the next generation of telescopes.

The new candidate planet, Barnard's Star b, is thought to have a mass between those of Earth and Neptune in the Solar system.

The planet, Barnard's Star b, is about as far away from its star as Mercury is from the Sun.

This device, as explained by the scientists, captures the slightest "jitter" in the position of the stars in the sky, resulting from their gravitational interactions with the planets. However, if astronomers record observations of this starlight over many years, they may notice slight periodic frequency shifts.

This will happen very soon - a short distance to Barnard's star and its dim nature, make its planetary retinue Prime candidate for obtaining the first detailed images of worlds beyond our Solar system.

While the planet doesn't seem exactly hospitable, future advancement may allow us to colonize it in the future and make use of the large ice reserves that can be found on the planet.

"The James Webb Space Telescope might not help in this case, because it was not designed for what's called high contrast imaging". In the 1960s, the Dutch astronomer Peter van de Kamp, working in the United States, published his evidence for a planetary companion, based on perturbations in the motion of the star.

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