Published: Thu, November 15, 2018
Research | By Jody Lindsey

Super-Earth discovered around the second nearest stellar system

Super-Earth discovered around the second nearest stellar system

The exoplanet is orbiting Barnard's star, the closest solitary star to our sun. The snow line around any star is the distance beyond which water can not exist in a liquid state on a planet's surface.

Graphic representation of the relative distances to the nearest stars from the sun. That might suggest a warm, temperate world - but Barnard's Star is a dim object, far less luminous than the Sun.

Red dwarfs are stars more or less like the Sun - in that they fuse hydrogen into helium in their cores to generate energy - but they are smaller, dimmer, lower mass, and cooler. "It could lead potentially to other discoveries".

Also, astronomers have been searching for planets around Barnard's Star for a long time, so this is the culmination of a monumental effort. The planet, Proxima Centauri b, is just 4.2 light years from Earth. It is so close that the next generation of telescopes may be able to image it directly, the researchers said. An exoplanet is a planet that orbits around another star. "We're quite convinced" it is a planet, Ribas says. Tiny wobbles allow scientists to pinpoint new planets. This is where planets are detected using gravity-both the star's influence on the planet and the planet's influence on the star. Knowing the star's mass, we can then determine the planet's mass of 3.2 times the Earth's (this is found by how much the planet tugs on the star). Now, an global team led by researchers from the Spanish National Research Council (CSIC) has found a cold Super-Earth orbiting around the Barnard´s star, the second closest star system to Earth.

This is not the first time that Barnard's star has been the focus of attention for exoplanet-hunting astronomers. It is worth noting, however, that the measurements place the planet at a similar period to van de Kamp's claims in the 1960s.

Astronomers have since 1997 collected a large number of measurements on the oscillation movement of the star.

"There´s not so many stars in our immediate neighbourhood".

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"Not one has ever been confirmed", he said in a Q&A published by the European Southern Observatory. The radial velocity method looks for gravitational changes as a planet pushes or pulls on its star. As it moves towards Earth its light appears shifted towards the blue part of the spectrum and, as it moves away, it appears shifted towards the red.

The magnitude of the wobble reveals the minimum mass of the planet that is responsible for the motion. "But in the United States, they are also developing WFirst - a small telescope that's also used for cosmology", said Dr Anglada Escudé. Even so, the size of the newly found planet is just on the edge of what current instruments can detect.

Professor Carole Haskell, head of astronomy at the Open University, said it was possible aliens could be discovered. That gave them enough data to detect the small signal of the planet.

The 233-day period for the snow world, Barnard's Star b, is far beyond the habitable zone of its star.

Despite this particular planet's seeming inhabitability, the reported detection raises hopes that astronomers could get a closeup look at the type of exoplanet considered most likely to have conditions conducive to life.

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

"It's important because it's really our next-door neighbor, and we like to meet our neighbors in general", said Ignasi Ribas, from the Institute of Space Studies of Catalonia and Spain's Institute of Space Sciences.

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