Scientists have discovered a ‘frozen and rocky’ super-Earth, three times the size of Earth, and capable of harboring life as we know it, orbiting Bernard’s Star just six light-years away. Bernard’s Star is nearly impossible to see with the naked eye from earth, despite being the second closest star in terms of distance.
Scientists have discovered the existence of an exoplanet orbiting Bernard’s Star, only 6 light years from Earth, the closest star system to Earth after Proxima b.
The planet’s existence was presented in a study published in the journal Nature.
The discovery was made possible thanks to one of the largest observation campaigns conducted to date, in which scientists have used data from a dozen telescopes from all over the world.
Furthermore, as explained by experts, the discovery of the planet is the result of the Red Dots and CARMENES projects – a new state-of-the-art planet-hunting instrument Carmenes at the Calar Alto Observatory in Spain -, whose search for nearby rocky exoplanets has resulted in the discovery of Proxima B, in the Proxima Centauri System.
The newly detected planet has been dubbed Barnard’s Star b, is thought to be rocky and is at least 3.2 times larger than the Earth.
The planet orbits Bernard’s star, a cool red-dwarf star, much smaller and older than the sun. Its year equals 233 days.
But even though the planet orbits its host star at a much closer orbit than what Earth orbits the sun, Bernard’s Star B is much colder than Earth. In fact, because of the lack of heat, much of the planet remains deep frozen.
However, despite this, scientists have not ruled out the possibility that the newly discovered alien world can harbor life on its surface.
That’s mostly thanks to its star, which is a relatively inactive sun, meaning that it doesn’t really bombard nearby planets with harmful radiation.
Therefore, life has a good chance of evolving on the planet.
“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.
“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.”
The planet wasn’t seen, as not even, the most powerful telescopes we have in function today would not image it. Instead, scientists made use of a technique called ‘radial velocity’ to spot the distant world.
Radial Velocity is a technique where astronomers look for how an exoplanet’s orbit changes the position and velocity of a star as they orbit a common center of mass. using this technique, astronomers are able to estimate a planet’s mass and orbital period.
Diagram showing how an exoplanet’s orbit changes the position and velocity of a star as they orbit a common center of mass.
“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 neighbors.”
The discovery of the planet was presented in a study published in the journal Nature.