Astronomers May Have Just Discovered a Super Earth Just Six Light Years Away

In a new paper published in the journal Nature, an international team of researchers have shared that there may be a super-Earth orbiting Barnard’s Star, a very-low-mass red dwarf star that is only six light years away from regular Earth. The astronomers didn’t exactly see the planet, but they do have the data to back up what they believe is out there.

The term super-Earth doesn’t mean that there are enhanced versions of humans flying around the planet and shooting lasers from their eyes, as far as we know. It is actually a reference to the planet’s mass relative to our planet and to ice giants like Uranus and Neptune. Using data from several telescopes around the world, the researchers discovered that there was a dip in the star’s brightness that occurred every 233 days which is likely caused by an exoplanet 3.5 times the mass of Earth that is orbiting it at a distance 0.4 times that of the distance between Earth and the Sun. The probably rocky planet, designated Barnard’s Star b, is likely extremely cold (-274F) and very dark because it only gets two percent of the energy from its parent star that we get from our radiant sun. 

“After a very careful analysis, we are 99% confident that the planet is there,” said lead scientist Ignasi Ribas of the Institute of Space Studies of Catalonia and the Institute of Space Sciences in a statement “however, we’ll continue to observe this fast-moving star to exclude possible, but improbable, natural variations of the stellar brightness which could masquerade as a planet.” The scientists used several instruments to their research, including the HARPS and UVES spectrographs of the European Southern Observatory (ESO). “We used observations from seven different instruments, spanning 20 years of measurements, making this one of the largest and most extensive datasets ever used for precise radial velocity studies,” Ribas added. “The combination of all data led to a total of 771 measurements – a huge amount of information!”

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