Astronomers have found evidence of a “super-Earth” planet orbiting beyond our Solar System. The exoplanet is 3.2 times bigger than Earth and it’s circling Barnard’s star. It’s also just 6 light years away, making it one of the closest stars to the sun. The other stars include the Alpha Centauri system that’s just 4.3 light years from the Earth’s sun. Scientists are calling the newly detected planet the Barnard’s star b. It’s not clear yet whether it’s a planet but there’s a strong belief among the scientists involved that it does possess the characteristics of a planet.
Speaking to an online news outlet, one of the scientists, who was part of the discovery, said that based on their analysis so far, they are 99% sure that the Barnard’s star b will be confirmed as a planet. If confirmed, it will be the nearest exoplanet to Earth. At the moment, this title is held by Proxima b which orbits the Proxima Centauri. Studies by the NASA’s Kepler space telescope have shown that small planets in the Earth’s Milky Way are very common. The discovery of the Proxima b and now the Barnard’s star b is clear evidence that there could be other exoplanets that may be even closer to planet Earth than we think.
Barnard’s star was named after E.E. Barnard, an American Astronomer who’s credited with making a number of key contributions to understanding the Milky Way and the galaxy in general. Astronomers noted that the Barnard’s star has been getting closer to Earth with each passing day. Scientists think that in 10,000 years from now, the Barnard star will only be 3.8 light years away. The star is also about twice as old as the Earth’s sun, even bigger and more luminous.
The Barnard’s Star has been a target for scientists who are searching for exoplanets for quite a few years now. However, during this period, there wasn’t much success until now. In addition to this, the new detection wasn’t that easy. The team of scientists involved with the discovery had to analyze massive sets of data both newly gathered and archival. There were also numerous equipment and technologies used for this.
One of the key characteristics of the Barnard’s Star b is its huge size. In fact, the star is being referred to now as a “super-Earth.” These are basically classes of planets that are larger than Earth but generally smaller than the “ice giants” such as Uranus and Neptune. The scientists also noted that the planet takes about 233 Earth days to fully rotate around its star.
Additional measurements and data will probably be needed to confirm the planetary status of the new exoplanet. Important attributes about the planet’s atmosphere, including wind, will also be assessed in this process. The search for extra-terrestrial life has been going on for years now. Scientists and space agencies have developed better and more accurate technology to aid the searches and so far a number of notable discoveries have already been made including this one.