Frozen Super-Earth discovered orbiting nearby Barnard’s star

Martin Kornmesser  ESO

It is possible Bernard's Star b may offer similar niches for life.

The planet's mass is thought to be more than three times that of our own, placing it in a category of world know as "super-Earths".

Writing in the journal Nature, Guillem Anglada Escudé and colleagues said this newly-discovered world had a mass 3.2 times bigger than the Earth's.

A frozen "super-Earth" discovered six light years from Earth could be capable of harbouring life, scientists have said. It's probably very rich in volatiles like water, hydrogen, carbon dioxide - things like this. So they obtained time on some telescopes to do an extensive monitoring campaign in 2016 and 2017, including simultaneous observations with more than one instrument. As it orbits one of the Solar system's closest neighbours, it presents a flawless target for future observations. "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.

Still, this new exoplanetary discovery is exciting.

An Unforgiving Environment Barnard's star is a cool, low-mass red dwarf estimated to be at least twice as old as our Sun, with some calculations putting it at 12 billion years old. As for the possibility of life on Bernard's Star b, the planet is "way too cold" to sustain liquid water, Ribas says, and whether life may be frozen beneath an ocean is just speculation at this point.

However, if the planet has a substantial atmosphere the temperature could be higher and conditions potentially more hospitable. As they migrate closer to their host stars, gathering more material, they become planets. When an object moves away from us, the light we observe becomes slightly less energetic and redder.

A light-year is the distance light travels in one year.

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After crunching the numbers of decades' worth of data, the existence of Barnard's Star b seems fairly certain-though the ever-cautious Red Dots team is still calling it a planet candidate.

They also added new observations with the Carmenes spectrometer in Almeria, Spain, the Eso/Harps instrument in Chile and the Harps-N instrument in the Canary Islands.

"It was not only about getting new data but also about understanding the systematic effects".

"When we re-analyzed all the combined measurements, a clear signal arose at a period of 233 days".

Since this exoplanet is so close, astronomers hope that they will be able to use it as a target for the next generation of space telescopes, such as the planned NASA Wide Field Infrared Survey Telescope (WFIRST). "It was a community effort", Ribas says.

Barnard's Star has always been "the great white whale" of exoplanet hunting, said Carnegie astronomer Paul Butler, a co-author on the Nature paper.

However, van de Kamp's claims proved controversial, as other scientists were not able to reproduce his finding. "Van de Kamp is a true pioneer in extrasolar planets".

The new signal, on the other hand, seems to indicate something about 15 Earth-masses, which is unlikely to show a noticeable astrometric signal from Earth. "This is going to be one of the best candidates", says astronomer Nikku Madhusudhan of the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom, who was not part of the discovery team.

The star is named after the American astronomer E E Barnard, who measured properties of its motion in 1916.

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