Wednesday, 19 December, 2018

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

Barnard's star b's surface This artist’s impression shows the frigid surface of Barnard’s star
Derrick Tucker | 17 November, 2018, 16:01

Now continues the study of super-earths with spectometry HIRES.

Barnard's Star, a red dwarf star located in a solar system about six light-years away from Earth, may have some company.

Barnard's star b, as the new planet is called, was excruciatingly hard to pin down, and the team is referring to it as a "candidate planet" though it is confident it's there. The detailed follow-up that spotted it also hints at the possibility of a separate, more distant planet, and both could help inform our models of planet formation.

Barnard's Star is a red dwarf and one of the closest stars to Earth. Over several decades, starting in the late 1930s, he studied the star, taking myriad images, and observing it moving against the background stars.

"We combined archival data from other teams with new, overlapping, measurements of Barnard's star from different facilities. Only when we had done that did the signal become very clear and obvious".

He added: "Many of them are frozen on the surface".

Instead, astronomers used the tried and trusted "radial velocity" technique of looking for light frequency variations that betray the "wobble" an orbiting planet imparts on a star. This would create slight changes in the color of the light from Earth's perspective due to the Doppler effect. The planet is named after the star it orbits.

Finding out more about Barnard's star b will likely require telescopes able to detect light from the planet itself.

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Observations of the planet indicate it is a rocky world.

Video: This video from the Institute of Space Studies of Catalonia/Science-Wave describes a newly detected candidate for a planet.

"This technique has been used to find hundreds of planets", said Butler, one of the pioneers of the radial velocity method. They know it must be at least three times as massive as Earth, but it could be even larger. If the orbit has a different orientation, then the planet will be heavier.

Graphic representation of the relative distances to the nearest stars from the Sun.

That location is interesting from a planetary science perspective.

Dr Mikko Tuomi, who originally discovered the planet, said: "The ability to directly image a planet greatly increases our ability to understand its characteristics and increase the potential for possible exploration in future, helping astronomers discover more about the planets that lie beyond our solar system". The study found that at its distance from its star, any water on the planet would be frozen. This will likely include a search for gases like oxygen and methane in the planet's atmosphere, which might be markers for biology.

Barnard's Star formed way before our solar system existed. Barnard's Star is what we call an M3.5 star, with just 0.16 times the Sun's mass and 0.18 times its diameter. When the researchers did that here, a second, far weaker signal at 6,600 days appeared. It was found by an worldwide team of scientists searching for rocky planets beyond our solar system. But Barnard's Star has one! "If the planet can be observed directly it will provide vital information about its properties and extend our understanding of the kinds of planets that form around red dwarf stars", researchers said. The European Space Agency's Gaia mission could eventually shed light on this question, since the spacecraft is created to precisely track the movements of stars.

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