Super-Earth Discovered Orbiting Barnard’s Star

Posted: Nov 17 2018, 10:27pm CST | by , Updated: Nov 17 2018, 10:34pm CST, in Latest Science News


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Super-Earth Discovered Orbiting Barnard’s Star
Artist's impression of the surface of Barnard's star b. Credit ESO-M. Kornmesser. Credit: Credit ESO-M. Kornmesser

Barnard's star is the next closest star to the Sun after the Alpha Centauri triple system.

Astronomers have discovered a giant planet orbiting one of the closest stars to the Sun.

Barnard's star is a faint red dwarf that is located mere 6 light-years from Earth and is orbited by a potentially rocky planet. The planet, known as Barnard's star b, is a super-Earth – a planet with mass higher than Earth's but lower than that of massive planets in our solar system. It has a mass of 3.2 Earth masses and orbits its parent star every 233 days. This distance places the planet at snow line region of the star, which is well beyond the habitable zone. The planet is likely to be an icy world where liquid water and possibly life could not exist. Still, the results are encouraging.

“This discovery means a boost to continue searching for exoplanets around our closest stellar neighbors, in hopes that eventually we will come upon one that has the right conditions to host life.” Co-author Cristina Rodríguez-López, a researcher at the Instituto de Astrofísica de Andalucía said in a statement.

Barnard's star is the second closest star to the Sun after the Alpha Centauri star system. Its extreme proximity has long fascinated astronomers. Plus, it belongs to the category of red dwarfs. These faint, cooler low-mass stars are considered to be the ideal places to look for exoplanets or planets outside our solar system.

“Barnard's star is among the nearby red dwarfs that represents an ideal target to search for exoplanets that could someday actually be reached by future interstellar spacecraft,” said Co-author Steven Vogt from UC Santa Cruz. "It is the most common type of star in the galaxy--over 70 percent of Milky Way stars are like this dim, M dwarf star. Though it is extremely close, Barnard's star is too faint to be seen with the naked eye."

Researchers used the radial velocity method to detect the planet around Barnard’s star. The technique suggested that Barnard's Star was wobbling as it moved. The behavior is possibly caused by the gravitational tug of an orbiting planet. To confirm the presence of potential planet, researchers also re-examined archive data and made new observations with instruments like ESO’s HARPS and CARMENES spectrometer.

“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. The combination of all data led to a total of 771 measurements," said Dr. Ignasi Ribas from Institute of Space Sciences in Spain.

“After a very careful analysis, we are over 99 percent confident that the planet is there, since this is the model that best fits our observations. However, we must remain cautious and collect more data to nail the case in the future, because natural variations of the stellar brightness resulting from star spots can produce similar effects to the ones detected."

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<a href="/latest_stories/all/all/47" rel="author">Hira Bashir</a>
The latest discoveries in science are the passion of Hira Bashir (). With years of experience, she is able to spot the most interesting new achievements of scientists around the world and cover them in easy to understand reporting.




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