Frozen super-Earth discovered six light-years away

  • Astronomers have discovered a frozen planet with a mass more than three times that of the Earth.
  • It is  orbiting a star only six light-years away. 
  • According to the researchers from Queen Mary University of London, the potentially rocky planet, known as Barnard’s star b, is a ‘super-Earth’ and orbits around its host star once every 233 days.
  • The findings, published in the journal Nature, show the planet lies at a distant region from the star known as the ‘snow line’ which is well beyond the habitable zone in which liquid water, and possibly life, could exist.
  • The planet’s surface temperature is estimated to be around -170°C . However, if the planet has a substantial atmosphere the temperature could be higher and conditions more hospitable.
  • The planet is probably dimly lit by its star and slightly colder than Saturn. The researchers believe that it is an icy desert with no liquid water, a hostile environment where the average surface temperature is around minus-274 degrees Fahrenheit.
  •  Barnard’s star is an infamous object among astronomers and exoplanet scientists, as it was one of the first stars where planets were initially claimed but later proven to be incorrect.  
  • At nearly six light-years away Barnard’s star is the next closest star to the Sun after the Alpha Centauri triple system.
  • It is a type of faint, low-mass star called a red dwarf. Red dwarfs are considered to be the best places to look for exoplanet candidates, which are planets outside our solar system.
  • Barnard’s star b is the second closest known exoplanet to our Sun. The closest — Proxima b — lies just over four light-years from Earth and orbits around the red dwarf Proxima Centauri.
  • The researchers used the radial velocity method during the observations that led to the discovery of Barnard’s star b. The technique detects wobbles in a star which are likely to be caused by the gravitational pull of an orbiting planet. These wobbles affect the light coming from the star.

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