14 November 2018
UK Astronomers, along with colleagues from around the world, have discovered a planet in orbit around one of the closest stars to the Sun, Barnard’s star.
Partly funded by STFC the UK astronomers include a team from Queen Mary University of London who co-led the work and other UK astronomers involved came from the University of Hertfordshire and the Open University.
Located nearly six light years away from Earth the potentially rocky planet, known as Barnard’s star b, is a ‘super-Earth’ with a mass of at least 3.2 times that of our planet, and it orbits around its host star once every 233 days.
The results, published in the journal Nature, show the planet lies at a distant region from the star known as the ‘snow line’. This is well beyond the habitable zone in which liquid water, and possibly life, could exist.
The planet’s surface temperature is estimated to be around -170 degrees Celsius meaning it is likely to be a frozen world which is uninviting to Earth-like life.
Artist’s impression of the surface of a super-Earth orbiting Barnard’s Star.
(Credit: ESO/M. Kommesser)
However, if the planet has a substantial atmosphere the temperature could be higher and conditions potentially more hospitable.
Dr Guillem Anglada Escudé, from Queen Mary’s School of Physics and Astronomy, said: “We have all worked very hard on this breakthrough. This discovery is the result of a large collaboration that included contributions from teams all over the world. Follow-up observations are already underway at different observatories worldwide.”
Dr Mikko Tuomi, from the University of Hertfordshire, said: 'The ability to directly image a planet greatly increases our ability to understand its characteristics and increase the potential for possible exploration in the future, helping astronomers discover more about the planets that lie beyond our solar system.'
Last updated: 15 November 2018