Super-Earth discovered around the second nearest stellar system

Gwen Vasquez
November 16, 2018

In a landmark discovery, an global team of astronomers led by Ignasi Ribas of the Institute of Space Studies of Catalonia (IEEC) and Institute of Space Sciences (IEEC- CSIC) has found a candidate planet orbiting Barnard's star. This is a red dwarf-a type of small and cool star smaller than our Sun.

Now, an global team of astronomers has managed to discover a possible planet, known as a super-Earth, orbiting the star. So one way or another, Barnard's star will likely make numerous appearances in the headlines over the next few years.

Professor Carole Haswell, head of astronomy at the Open University and a member of the worldwide team that announced the discovery in the journal Nature, said: "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".

The red dwarf emits only around 0,4% of our sun's radiance, which means that the planet only receives around 2% of the intensity that the Earth receives from the sun.

From the phenomenal success of the Kepler mission and a proliferation of ground-based telescopes, we now know that planets are common in our galaxy.

"Exoplanets so small and so far away from their parent star have not been discovered before using the Doppler technique", says Ribas.

The exoplanet was found after stitching together 20 years of data, including 771 individual measurements, from seven instruments. But the new planet orbits far enough from Barnard's star that it had been missed by earlier attempts. Using sophisticated instruments, including Carnegie's Planet Finding Spectrograph, astronomers can detect the tiny wobbles that the planet's gravity induces in the star's orbit.

The astronomical team that found the nearest exoplanet at Proxima Centauri has done it again with the reported detection of a super-Earth orbiting Barnard's Star, the second-closest star system to our own.

Barnard's Star's biggest claim to fame is the rate at which it is tearing across the night sky. This star was discovered to host a frozen super-Earth exoplanet. For most of the past hundred years, the only way was the astrometric technique, in which astronomers look for the host star to wobble relative to background stars, Butler said.

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Observations of the planet indicate it is a rocky world.

The radial velocity method used in exoplanet hunting requires precise observations of a star's spectrum.

Because Barnard's Star is so dim, the planet's long orbital period puts it at the "snow line", where sunlight is so faint that its surface is perpetually frozen.

"HARPS played a vital part in this project", said Guillem Anglada Escudé of Queen Mary University of London and the co-lead scientist on the team, said in the statement.

Van de Kamp thought he saw at least two planets, one in a 12-year and one in a 25-year orbit, both around the mass of Jupiter.

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

"Though the super-Earth we detected is much too cold to be likely habitable, it does underscore exoplanet statistics that confirm there are more planets in the universe than there are stars, and more potentially habitable Earth-sized planets than grains of sand on all the beaches on our planet!" said Vogt.

"Difficult detections such as this one warrant confirmation by independent methods and research groups", he said in an essay accompanying the new study.

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