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Frozen super-Earth exoplanet found in second closest star system

17 November 2018

Now continues the study of super-earths with spectometry HIRES. The closest lies just over four light-years from Earth.

At almost twice as low as Earth's record low of 144° measured by satellite in the middle of Antarctica, that type of chill would freeze the air in your lungs leading to near instant death. It's probably very rich in volatiles like water, hydrogen, carbon dioxide - things like this. Spotting planets at a huge distance is still important, and every new planet researchers are able to detect adds to our knowledge of the universe and nature itself, but majority are so distant that we'll likely never actually visit them. That is true in the Solar system (Jupiter), and also seems true for Barnard's Star - if the planet really exists.

The planet's host star is Barnard's star, a very low-mass red dwarf that shines only dimly in visible light, making it invisible to the unaided eye. Only the Centauri system is closer, and we know there's at least one exoplanet there.

The planet orbits beyond a boundary called the "snow line", which is past the traditional habitable zone, where water can remain liquid on the surface. However, if the planet has a substantial atmosphere the temperature could be higher and conditions potentially more hospitable. 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. The radial velocity method looks for gravitational changes as a planet pushes or pulls on its star. As they report today in Nature, they found that the star's light oscillated every 322 days, implying a planet orbiting with a 322-day year. This imparts a Doppler shift on its light, shifting it to longer wavelengths (redshifting) when it moves away and toward shorter wavelengths (blueshifting) when it moves toward us.

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Barnard's Star b orbits its host at a distance of 60 million kilometres.

Lately, a lot of the exoplanets discovered by astronomers have been incredibly far away.

A slew of telescopes on three continents have set their sights on Barnard's Star, allowing researchers to accumulate some 800 observations over the course of 20 years.

The new detection was made by a team of scientists working on an astronomy collaboration called Red Dots. The existence of the gas planet is even harder to prove, as its 10-year period means it produces a weaker signal.

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[3] The facilities used in this research were: HARPS at the ESO 3.6-metre telescope; UVES at the ESO VLT; HARPS-N at the Telescopio Nazionale Galileo; HIRES at the Keck 10-metre telescope; PFS at the Carnegie's Magellan 6.5-m telescope; APF at the 2.4-m telescope at Lick Observatory; and CARMENES at the Calar Alto Observatory.

"These major observing campaigns gave us enough observations to confirm the planetary signal with several independent datasets and with the variety of different signal analysis tools that we had built at the University of Hertfordshire", said co-author Dr Fabo Feng.

This image shows an artist's impression of the planet's surface. Mathematical models suggest there is still a 0.8 percent chance that Barnard's Star's apparent wobble is caused by some other factor, like sunspots.

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Frozen super-Earth exoplanet found in second closest star system