Astronomers Discover 'Super-Earth' 6 Light Years Away

Barnard's star b's surface

This artist’s impression shows the frigid surface of Barnard’s star

Astronomers have discovered a planet around one of the closest stars to our Sun. The method is great for finding large planets, and has been effectively used to find smaller, nearby planets like Proxima Centauri b-but for finding small, far-out planets, it's a different matter entirely.

A team of researchers at the exoplanet-hunting institution Red Dots published a study today in Nature that compiles more than 20 years of observations of the star.

A frozen "super-Earth" discovered six light years from Earth could be capable of harbouring life, scientists have said.

While there are different snow lines for each chemical (carbon dioxide doesn't freeze out where water will), the presence of any solids should dramatically change the dynamics of the disks that give rise to planets. "Many of them are frozen on the surface", the astronomer, from Queen Mary University of London, told BBC News.

"Or it may be what we call a mini-Neptune, like a scaled-down version of the gas giants of our solar system". "It has rain and lakes made of methane".

A handout picture released by the European Southern Observatory (ESO) on November 13, 2018, shows an artist's impression of a "Super-Earth" planet viewed from space. For that reason, the exoplanet is deemed a "candidate", rather than a confirmed discovery.

Shining 16 times too faintly to see with the unaided eye, Barnard's Star is an ancient red dwarf - significantly older than the Sun.

It orbits around its parent star once every 233 days and lies at a distant region from the star known as the "snow line" - this is well beyond the habitable zone in which liquid water, and possibly life, could exist. The timing of the signal indicates that the planet orbits at about the same distance as Mercury orbits our Sun.

These methods haven't always been available to astronomers searching for exoplanets.

The newly detected planet orbiting Barnard's Star may not be so hospitable, with surface temperatures of perhaps minus 274 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 170 degrees Celsius). Instruments can be used to detect tiny wobbles in the star's orbit that are caused by the planet's gravity.

"A light source that comes towards us would have its wavelength slightly blue shifted, while a light source that moves away from us has its wavelength slightly red shifted", Ribas said.

"This planet is particularly complicated because the orbital period (the time to complete one full orbit of the host star) is 233 days".

The discoverers acknowledge, however, that they're not completely sure yet.

"It was not only about getting new data but also about understanding the systematic effects. Only when we had done that did the signal become very clear and obvious". It is so close that the next generation of telescopes may be able to image it directly, the researchers said.

"The James Webb Space Telescope might not help in this case, because it was not designed for what's called high contrast imaging. The investment to find them is expensive", said Ribas. If the planet is really there, we will likely get our first direct images confirming its existence within the next ten years. His claims of how planets could fit in orbit around the star were refuted, and he died five months before the first verifiable discovery of an exoplanet was made in May 1995, Butler said. In the 1960s, the Dutch astronomer Peter van de Kamp, working in the USA, published his evidence for a planetary companion, based on perturbations in the motion of the star.

Video: This video from the Institute of Space Studies of Catalonia/Science-Wave describes a newly detected candidate for a planet.

However, the new data contain tentative hints of a second planet orbiting Barnard's Star even further out than the Super-Earth.

"The new data does show evidence for a long period object". "Van de Kamp is a true pioneer in extrasolar planets". "But it's a long shot", said Anglada Escudé.

He added: "Difficult detections such as this one warrant confirmation by independent methods and research groups. a signal for the planet might be detectable in astrometric data - precision measurements of stellar positions - from the Gaia space observatory that are expected to be released in the 2020s".

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