Barnard's Star in the Solar neighborhood

Barnard's Star in the Solar neighborhood

This might not seem like much and explains why for most of human history it was thought that the positions of the stars were fixed but - to modern astronomers - Barnard's Star is virtually zipping across the sky.

The only closer star system is Alpha Centauri, which consists of three stars bound together by gravity. Barnard's star is the second-closest star system, and the nearest single star to us.

And to look at it through a telescope, the star appears to be moving the fastest among the other stars in the night sky. Even weaker signals were still present after that was removed, suggesting Barnard's star is worth long-term monitoring.

This technique has been used to find hundreds of planets. But Barnard's Star has one! If the orbit has a different orientation, then the planet will be heavier. We don't want another van de Kemp scenario. The wobble observed in the star's motion corresponds to speeds of only just over 1 metre per second-about walking speed.

Planets orbiting stars beyond our solar system are called exoplanets.

Successive surveys ruled out ever smaller planets.

Bernard's Star b has been categorized as a Super-Earth, meaning its mass is higher than Earth's, but doesn't reach the massive mass of ice giants like Uranus (15 times Earth's mass) and Neptune (17 times Earth's mass). While no such planet exists in our backyard, the Kepler spacecraft revealed that such planets are common in the cosmos.

However, detectable signals of a wobble from Earth-sized planets tugging on their host star are faint, and largely swamped by noise generated by the boiling surface activity of the stars themselves. While nearly twice as old as the sun, Barnard's star is relatively inactive and has the fastest apparent motion of any star in the night sky. The snow line around any star is the distance beyond which water can not exist in a liquid state on a planet's surface. This means it must be a frigid world. It is believed to orbit Barnard's Star every 233 days.

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But that icy orbit adds to our confidence that the planet could really be there. Eventually, the disc of gas and dust is blown away, leaving behind any planets it formed. However, the planet lies close to the so-called snow line, where volatile compounds such as water can condense into solid ice.

Here's another cool fact: it's also an old star that predates our own solar system.

Loacting Barnard's Star candidate planet. It is possible Bernard's Star b may offer similar niches for life. As it orbits one of the Solar system's closest neighbours, it presents a ideal target for future observations. So one way or another, Barnard's star will likely make numerous appearances in the headlines over the next few years.

An illustration of the relative distances to the nearest stars from our sun. The alien world is likely a rocky planet, boasting a mass 3.2 times that of Earth.

Among other instruments, the researchers used the HARPS spectrograph at the European Southern Observatory's 3.6-meter telescope in Chile, to observe and measure these gravitational effect of the planet on a Barnard's Star. Similarly, starlight is shifted towards shorter, bluer, wavelengths when the star moves towards Earth. Planet of the measuring instruments, namely, because you move the sun a little bit.

Beyond that? Who knows.

This is the first time that this technique has been used to detect a planet this small so far away from its host star.

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