Located around 6 light years away, a red dwarf: Bernard’s star seemed like the loneliest star closest to the solar system and the fastest moving in the night sky.
Throughout the years, and thanks to a number of telescopes like Hubble, Astronomers have managed to uncover thousands of hidden exoplanets spread across the universe– even an Earth-sized planet orbiting the nearest star to our sun – Proxima Centauri.
“After a very careful analysis, we are 99 percent confident that the planet is there,” Ignasi Ribas, of the Institute of Space Studies of Catalonia and the Institute of Space Sciences in Spain, said in a statement.
“However, we’ll continue to observe this fast-moving star to exclude possible, but improbable, natural variations of the stellar brightness which could masquerade as a planet,” added Ribas, the lead author of a new study announcing the detection of Barnard’s Star b. That study was published online today (Nov. 14) in the journal Nature.
Now, astronomers are announcing another exciting discovery, a super-Earth orbiting the closest single star (and second-closest star system, Proxima Centauri is the closest) to our own sun at only six light-years away: Barnard’s Star.
The best part it, the alien world may have all the necessary conditions to support life as we know it.
Bernard’s star is thought to have been created about 10,000 million years ago, meaning its older than our sun, but only has 16 percent of its mass.
At 3,170 Kelvin (2,896°C / 5,246°F), Bernard’s gives off most its light in the infrared end of the spectrum, bathing the planet, Barnard’s Star b, in a strange orange hue.
And although it is very close, it can not be seen with the naked eye because it is not very bright.
This, of course, does not prevent telescopes from observing it.
After twenty years of observations and more recent analysis with the HARPS and CARMENES spectrographs, at the observatories of La Silla (Chile) and Calar Alto (Almería), which analyze the spectrum (something like the fingerprint of light), Astronomers have been able to detect a very subtle movement around the alien star that indicates the presence of a planet.
The new planet for Barnard’s Star was found by analyzing the combined data from a number of telescopes. Once gathered, scientists stitched together all data and created an exceptionally large database.
The planet, eventually, popped up.
— Prof. Abel Méndez (@ProfAbelMendez) November 14, 2018
Because of the relative inactivity of Bernard’s star, the planets orbiting it, in this case, Barnard’s Star b, aren’t likely to be blasted with harmful solar radiation, which means that life on its surface could have a chance of surviving.
‘While the starlight from Barnard’s Star is too feeble for Barnard’s Star b to have liquid water on its surface, Barnard’s Star b probably has a similar temperature to Jupiter’s moon Europa,’ explained Professor Carole Haswell, head of astronomy at the Open University and a member of the international team that announced the discovery.
Barnard’s Star, The “Great White Whale” of Planet Hunting, Has Surrendered Its Secret – Astronomers have found that Barnard’s star has a super-Earth sized planet orbiting just beyond its habitable zone. | Many Worlds @nexssinfo https://t.co/dn2bP31pzt pic.twitter.com/hPfwCnpbF6
— The SETI Institute (@SETIInstitute) November 14, 2018
“Famously, Europa has a sub-surface ocean which has been considered as a potential habitat for life. It is possible Barnard’s Star b may offer similar niches for life. Tantalizingly, super-Earths like Barnard’s Star b probably sustain geothermal activity for longer than their lower mass counterparts.”
“This could be helpful to life by providing sustained heat and the chemicals needed to build complex organic molecules. This new discovery offers exciting prospects to learn more about the galaxy’s diversity of planetary systems, starting with our own solar system’s near neighbours.”