Astronomers have discovered a Super-Earth orbiting around Barnard's star, a red dwarf located about six light-years from the Sun.
This Super-Earth has mass at least 3.2 times that of the Earth, and it completes one revolution around Barnard's star in 233 days. It is potentially a rocky planet and has been named Barnard's star B.
Located six light-years away from the Sun, Barnard's star is the second-closest star system to the Sun after the Alpha Centauri triple system; it is also the closest single star to the Sun. It is an extremely faint red dwarf, being just 3 per cent as bright as the Sun. It is named after E E Barnard, an American astronomer who measured its motion for the first time in 1916.
Astronomers discovered Barnard's star B using the radial velocity method. This technique enabled them to detect wobbles in Barnard's star resulting from the gravitational pull of the orbiting planet. The team also re-examined the data collected by different telescopes over the past 20 years.
New observations from modern instruments - including the ESO/HARPS instrument in Chile, the CARMENES spectrometer in Spain, and the HARPS-N instrument in the Canary Islands - were also examined in detail.
"After a very careful analysis, we are over 99 per cent confident that the planet is there, since this is the model that best fits our observations," said Dr Ignasi Ribas, from Institut d'Estudis Espacials de Catalunya and the Institute of Space Sciences in Spain.
"However, we must remain cautious and collect more data to nail the case in the future."
According to astronomers, Barnard's star b orbits near the snow line of its host star, which means it is beyond the habitable zone. It is likely a frozen world, with a surface temperature of about -170 degrees Celsius. It is most likely a rocky planet, rich in volatiles with most being frozen on the surface.
Barnard's star B is now the second-closest known exoplanet to our Sun, after Proxima B that circles around Proxima Centauri, a red dwarf. Astronomers also believe this exoplanet possibly has a massive atmosphere, which could potentially make the conditions more hospitable to life.
The research team - including astronomers from Queen Mary University of London, the European Southern Observatory, the Institut d'Estudis Espacials de Catalunya and the Institute of Space Sciences/CSIC in Spain - has published its paper in journal Nature.
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