This “Super Earth” Is Only 6 Light Years From Earth

Astronomers discovered a frozen exoplanet, sometimes larger than Earth, orbiting around a star only 6 light-years away. The exoplanet orbits Barnard’s star, the lonely star closest to our sun.

This makes it the second known exoplanet closest to us. Previously, an exoplanet was found orbiting in the Proxima Centauri three-star system.

The exoplanet was found after collecting 20 years of data, including 771 individual measurements, from seven instruments. The analysis that led to the discovery is detailed in a study published Wednesday in the journal Nature.

Icy World

For years, astronomers thought they would find a planet around the nearest star, but it avoided them.

“The most important thing about this discovery is the host star,” Paul Butler, co-author of the study and an astronomer at the Carnegie Institution for Science, wrote in an email. “Barnard’s star is the ‘great white whale’ of planetary hunters.”

The closest stars to the Sun. Credit: NASA/Penn State University
The closest stars to the Sun. Credit: NASA/Penn State University

Planet Is An Ice Desert

The planet, known as Barnard’s star b, is probably poorly illuminated by its star and a little colder than Saturn. Researchers believe that it is an ice desert without liquid water, a hostile environment where the average temperature is close to -170 degrees.

The red dwarf star itself emits only about 0.4% of the radiation from our sun, so the planet receives 2% of the intensity that the Earth receives from its sun. This is because the Barnard star belongs to the M-class of dwarf stars, which are cold and larger than our sun. It is also an old star before our own solar system.

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