Discovered! Icy Super-Earth at Barnard's Star, Our Sun's Neighbor

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An global team including five Carnegie astronomers has discovered a frozen Super-Earth orbiting Barnard's star, the closest single star to our own Sun.

In mankind´s bid to map the planets in the night sky, most historic research has focused on brighter, newer stars, which produce more light and increase the chances of scientists noticing anything orbiting them.

This is the first time that this technique has been used to detect a planet this small so far away from its host star.

Writing in Nature, Rodrigo Diaz, from the Institute of Astronomy and Space Physics in Buenos Aires, Argentina, who was not involved with the study, said the discovery "gives us a key piece in the puzzle of planetary formation and evolution, and might be among the first low-mass exoplanets whose atmospheres are probed in detail". It was discovered as part of a project to find rocky planets around red dwarfs and the instruments used to do this-including the CARMENES (Calar Alto high-Resolution search for M dwarfs with Exoearths with Near-infrared and optical Échelle Spectrographs)-are specially created to do this. A collaborative team of researchers from the Red Dots and CARMENES projects, both efforts to find planets around nearby red dwarfs, used a variety of telescopes to discover this exoplanet, known as Barnard's Star b, and explore its features.

For observations of a large worldwide team of scientists led by Spanish astrophysicist Ignasi Ribas (Ignasi Ribas), used the HIRES spectrometer located in Hawaii, the W. M. Keck Observatory. "The thing is that the candidate planet we found is so small and so far from its host star that its effect on the star is really, really tiny". "Though it is extremely close, Barnard's star is too faint to be seen with the naked eye". The team hopes that they are right this time. The closest lies just over four light-years from Earth and was also discovered by a team led by Queen Mary's Dr. Anglada Escudé in 2016. This is because Barnard's star is in the class of M dwarf stars, cooler and less massive than our sun.

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At over three times the mass of the Earth it could easily handle our planets overgrowing population but humans could never handle the 238 degree below zero cold. The exoplanet orbits its star in about 233 days, far less than Earth's 365 day orbit, but longer than numerous other known exoplanets discovered to date.

Lacking atmosphere, its temperature is likely to be about minus 170 degrees Celsius, which makes it unlikely that the planet can sustain liquid water on the surface.

While the planet doesn't seem exactly hospitable, future advancement may allow us to colonize it in the future and make use of the large ice reserves that can be found on the planet.

Artist's impression of the Barnard star b's surface. Astronomers have been measuring minuscule characteristics of the star for decades, searching for signs of orbiting planets, and over the years, hints of a possible world tugging on the star have been gleaned here and there-but nothing was ever considered conclusive. "We followed Barnard's star for 16 long years at Keck, amassing some 260 radial velocities of Barnard's star by 2013", Vogt said.

"The star is named in honor of the great American astronomer Edward Emerson Barnard, who was a pioneer of stellar photography and astrometry", Butler said. Data from a worldwide array of telescopes, including ESO's planet-hunting HARPS instrument, have revealed this frozen, dimly lit world. "The combination of all data led to a total of 771 measurements - a huge amount of information!"