Ancient Frozen 'Super Earth' Found Orbiting A Nearby Star

Barnard's star b's surface

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

The planet, known as Barnard's star b, is probably dimly lit by its star and slightly colder than Saturn.

These issues provide an intriguing backdrop for today's announcement that one of the closest stars to Earth has a super-Earth companion.

Earth-like planets are at the top of the list for scientists to scour for evidence of extraterrestrial life, but the likelihood of finding life on this newly-discovered planet is slim.

At almost twice as low as Earth's record low of 144° measured by satellite in the middle of Antarctica, that type of chill would freeze the air in your lungs leading to near instant death.

For most of human history, it was thought that the positions of the stars were fixed, but to modern astronomers, Barnard's Star is virtually zipping across the sky. It's also an old star that predates our own solar system. "It has rain and lakes made of methane".

Barnard's star b, as the new planet is called, was excruciatingly hard to pin down, and the team is referring to it as a "candidate planet" though it is confident it's there.

The Verge added that thousands of planets were found outside the Solar System. Planets around red dwarfs tend to skew to Earth-size - bigger planets around these kinds of stars are more rare - and red dwarfs are by far the most common kind of star in the galaxy, outnumbering more massive stars like the Sun by more than five to one.

However, on the surface of the planet, according to these experts, very cold.

They did this by using observations by the Calar Alto Observatory in Spain using the radial velocity technique. Unlike NASA's Kepler and new Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) - which both detect the slight dimming of starlight as an exoplanet orbits in front of its host star (known as a "transit") - the radial velocity method doesn't depend on detecting this dip in light to realize the presence of exoplanets around stars.

This involves looking for light frequency variations that betray the "wobble" an orbiting planet imparts on a star. This imparts a Doppler shift on its light, shifting it to longer wavelengths (redshifting) when it moves away and toward shorter wavelengths (blueshifting) when it moves toward us.

But the new discovery is exciting for other reasons.

A slew of telescopes on three continents have set their sights on Barnard's Star, allowing researchers to accumulate some 800 observations over the course of 20 years. More recently, most exoplanets have been detected using a different technique known as the transit method. "We hope that this time she will not fail", said Guillem Anglada-Escude (Guillem Anglada-Escude) of Queen Mary University in London. A clear signal at a period of 233 days arose again and again.

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

"The James Webb Space Telescope might not help in this case, because it was not designed for what's called high contrast imaging. We would learn so much about this planet", Ribas says.

Artist impression of what the surface of Barnard's Star B might be like. "Certainly, even with our current technology, we could launch unmanned probes to send back pictures of this planet". This makes the exoplanet more hefty than us but much less than Neptune, the next most massive planet in the solar system, so we call it a super-Earth.

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.

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