Science 3 min read

Discovery of an Exoplanet Orbiting Barnard's Star

Researchers may have just discovered an exoplanet in our own galactic backyard. | image by ESO M. Kornmesser

Researchers may have just discovered an exoplanet in our own galactic backyard. | image by ESO M. Kornmesser

Astronomers have discovered a potential super-Earth around the closest star to our Sun.

Located in the constellation Ophiuchus, about six light-years away from us, Barnard’s Star is one of the closest neighbors of our home star.

Barnard’s Star is a red dwarf that’s about five times the size of our sun.

Had Barnard’s Star been our home star, Earth would be in a cold and dark atmosphere that could not sustain life.

Astronomers long suspected there would be planets orbiting Barnard’s Star. Despite extensive searching, they couldn’t detect any.

Researchers also assumed these planets would probably be Earth-like exoplanets. They reasoned that if there were gas giants around Barnard’s Star, they would have found them by now.

Now, new research confirms all astronomers’ assumptions about Barnard’s Star system.

There’s Indeed a Super-Earth Around Barnard’s Star

Barnard’s Star is much older and dimmer than the Sun and, after the Alpha Centauri system, it’s the second-closest star system to us.

Named after the 19th-century astronomer Edward Emerson Barnard, Barnard’s Star has caught the attention of not just astronomers.

Several science fiction authors like Arthur C. Clarke and Douglas Adams have imagined rocky planets in Barnard’s star system.

Now, a new study confirms the educated guesses of scientists and the speculations of fiction writers about Barnard’s Star.

Researchers from Britain and Spain announced they were 99 percent confident Barnard’s Star has at least one earth-like exoplanet.

Read More: Study Shows One Third of Known Exoplanets are “Water Worlds”

This discovery is symbolic as the first ever claims about exoplanets back in the 1960s were about Barnard’s Star system. Researchers involved in the project noted that:

“Barnard’s star is an infamous object among astronomers and exoplanet scientists, as it was one of the first stars where planets were initially claimed but later proven to be incorrect. Hopefully, we got it right this time.”

The team, from the Queen Mary University of London, the Institut d’Estudis Espacials de Catalunya, and the Institute of Space Sciences in Spain, also provide more insights about this new addition to the exoplanet list.

Dubbed Barnard’s star b, this exoplanet is potentially rocky. At a size of 3.2 Earth masses, it’s a “super-Earth” that completes an orbit around its home star in 233 days.

“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,” said Dr. Ignasi Ribas, co-leader of the research. “However, we must remain cautious and collect more data to nail the case in the future.”

According to astronomers’ findings, Barnard’s star b is a shadowy and frozen world with temperatures as low as -170° Celsius, that’s unconducive to life, or at least Earth-like life.

If Barnard’s Star is the closest single star to us, the planet orbiting it is, in fact, the second-closest exoplanet discovered after Proxima b in the Proxima Centauri star system that could be NASA’s first interstellar destination.

How could astronomers, who have discovered thousands of faraway exoworlds, miss a planet this close to us?

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Zayan Guedim

Trilingual poet, investigative journalist, and novelist. Zed loves tackling the big existential questions and all-things quantum.

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