(COLOMBO, LANKAPUVATH) –Astronomers are “99 percent confident” that this exoplanet is real and not a false detection. The planet for Barnard’s star – 2nd closest star system to our sun – appears to be a cold super-Earth.
Astronomers have discovered thousands of exoplanets in recent years – even an Earth-sized planet orbiting the nearest star to our sun – Proxima Centauri. Today (November 14, 2018), they’re announcing another exciting finding, a super-Earth planet orbiting the closest single star (and second-closest star system) to our own sun at only six light-years away, Barnard’s Star.
The planet has been labeled Barnard’s Star b (GJ 699 b). Its discovery has been decades in the making!
Indeed, Barnard’s Star was among the first to be announced – from the early 1960s to the early 1970s – as having an orbiting planet. Astronomer Peter van de Kamp argued he saw “wobbles” in the star’s motion across our sky, indicating one or more planets tugging on the star. He was in error, with the apparent positional shifts apparently caused by adjustments in the telescope lens, but the mystique of Barnard’s Star endured.
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That mystique, and the nearness of this star to Earth, must have helped encourage an international team of astronomers to work hard to find a planet for Barnard’s Star. The team – including astronomers from the European Southern Observatory (ESO), the Carnegie Institution for Science and elsewhere – has published its paper announcing the discovery in the peer-reviewed journal Nature.
The astronomers found the planet via the same method van de Kamp used in the 1960s and ’70s – which is called the radial velocity method – aided by instruments with vastly greater power and sensitivity, plus modern computers. The new planet for Barnard’s Star was found by analyzing 20 years of combined data from various telescopes, stitched together to create an exceptionally large database. According to lead author Ignasi Ribas of Spain’s Institute of Space Studies of Catalonia: