'Super-Earth' discovered orbiting Sun's nearest star

Martin Kornmesser  ESO

Martin Kornmesser ESO

That dip, which occurs every 233 days, might be the telltale sign that a planet is in orbit around it. As for the possibility of life on Bernard's Star b, the planet is "way too cold" to sustain liquid water, Ribas says, and whether life may be frozen beneath an ocean is just speculation at this point.

Graphic representation of the relative distances to the nearest stars from the sun. It is so old scientists think it could be one of the Milky Way's first stars.

Barnard's Star is a so-called "red dwarf" star, one of the nearest stars to our solar system's sun.

There are still many mysteries surrounding this newly discovered exoplanet. At just 4.4 light years away, this planet will make an excellent target for future observation. It is so close that the next generation of telescopes may be able to image it directly, the researchers said.

It is the first time that astronomers have discovered this type of exoplanet using the radial velocity method. Which brings us to our new find.

The new detection was made by a team of scientists working on an astronomy collaboration called Red Dots.

Just six light-years from Earth, the second closest star system to our sun hosts a frozen super-Earth, according to new findings by an worldwide team of researchers.

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.

Back in the 1960s Peter van de Kamp, a Dutch astronomer based in the United States, reported the discovery of two planets roughly the size of Jupiter orbiting the red dwarf.

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"When I strummed the strings for the first time, something clicked inside me", he told The [Nashville] Tennessean in 1987. The always smiling, fleet-fingered multi-instrumentalist was born in Virginia and raised in NY and Washington, D.C.

In 1997 the team started scanning Barnard's star using the Keck Observatory's HIRES instrument, which was designed by Vogt himself. And while it's not easily visible without a telescope, Barnard's Star has long attracted astronomer's gaze as the fastest moving star in the night sky. It was found by an worldwide team of scientists searching for rocky planets beyond our solar system.

Barnard's Star is a small, ancient kind of sun called a red dwarf.

They then used a phenomenon known as the Doppler effect to track the impact of its gravitational pull on its parent star. This is how we find exoplanets actually: As they orbit their host stars, their gravity causes their stars to wobble, pulling them toward and away from the telescope on Earth, creating a frequency shift that corresponds to the exoplanet's mass orbital period.

The magnitude of the wobble reveals the minimum mass of the planet that is responsible for the motion.

The final push came when Ribas's team chose to launch an intensive observing campaign from 2016 to 2017 aimed at confirming the suspected planet using CARMENES, a new planet-hunter spectrograph at Calar Alto Observatory in Spain.

"We found a lot of systematic errors from several of the instruments that were producing "ghost signals". The team of researchers combined 20 years worth of data from seven separate instruments to make their conclusion and discover the planet. That gave them enough data to detect the small signal of the planet.

Artist's impression of Barnard's Star's planet under the orange tinted light from the star.

These methods haven't always been available to astronomers searching for exoplanets.

"He worked hard at improving the only technique at that time that had a prayer of finding planets, and spent decades collecting the data", Butler said. One thing astronomers are confident about, though, is that this new planet is not habitable.

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