Sun's closest solo star may have company

Barnard's Planet

The astronomical team that found the nearest exoplanet at Proxima Centauri has done it again with the reported detection of a super-Earth orbiting Barnard's Star, the second-closest star system to our own. The research pushed the limits of the radial velocity detection technique, which becomes more hard the farther a planet is from its star. One of the main architects of exoplanet research, the astronomer Peter van de Kamp, proposed more than 50 years ago that this star could host a planet.

The second-closest star system to Earth is one of the most intensively studied targets in the galaxy.

This is the first time that a planet this small and distant has been detected using the radial velocity technique, which Butler helped pioneer. That planet was discovered in 2016 and lies just four light-years from Earth.

Now that this planet appears to be a real world, Teske says that there are many unanswered questions she hopes to resolve quickly, such as what the surface is made of, or if it has an atmosphere.

"Tantalisingly, super-Earths like Barnard's Star b probably sustain geothermal activity for longer than their lower mass counterparts".

What was going on? van de Kamp's observations were made using a large refracting telescope, and astronomers eventually realised that the telescope's main objective lens had been cleaned and modified several times during the decades of his study.

An artist's rendition of Barnard's star b with the star in the background. "Hopefully we got it right this time". This is how we find exoplanets actually: As they orbit their host stars, their gravity causes their stars to wobble, pulling them toward and away from the telescope on Earth, creating a frequency shift that corresponds to the exoplanet's mass orbital period. So one way or another, Barnard's star will likely make numerous appearances in the headlines over the next few years.

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"Much of the universe is still a complete mystery", Ribas said.

Professor Carole Haswell, head of astronomy at the Open University and a member of the global team that announced the discovery in the journal Nature, said: "While the starlight from Barnard's Star is too feeble for Barnard's Star b to have liquid water on its surface, Barnard's Star b probably has a similar temperature to Jupiter's moon Europa".

"When we have the image we can then start to do spectroscopy - looking at different wavelengths, in the optical, in the infrared, looking at whether light is absorbed at different colours, meaning there are different things in the atmosphere". In the 1960s, the Dutch astronomer Peter van de Kamp, working in the USA, published his evidence for a planetary companion, based on perturbations in the motion of the star. That is true in the Solar system (Jupiter), and also seems true for Barnard's Star - if the planet really exists.

The new signal, on the other hand, seems to indicate something about 15 Earth-masses, which is unlikely to show a noticeable astrometric signal from Earth. "But it's a long shot", said Anglada Escudé.

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

The key observations came from the High Accuracy Radial Velocity Planet Searcher on the ESO's 3.6-meter La Silla telescope in Chile, also known as HARPs, plus the CARMENES instrument at the Calar Alto Observatory in southern Spain.

Astronomers have since 1997 collected a large number of measurements on the oscillation movement of the star.

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