Maybe next time: Barnard's star b is likely uninhabitable

An artist's rendition of Barnard's star b with the star in the background.                  ESO  M. Kornmesser

The planet's existence was confirmed after two decades of observations using several different ground-based telescopes and instruments.

The planet's mass is thought to be more than three times that of our own, placing it in a category of world know as "super-Earths". This star was discovered to host a frozen super-Earth exoplanet. It's probably very rich in volatiles like water, hydrogen, carbon dioxide - things like this.

Still, this new exoplanetary discovery is exciting. Barnard's star is the second-closest star system, and the nearest single star to us. "It has rain and lakes made of methane".

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Although it's orbiting the closest single star to the sun, the small planet is classified as cold, as it has been determined as sitting in the "snow-line" of the star, and so would likely be a frozen world - in fact, the observatory says the planet's temperature is likely to be about minus 150 degrees Celsius.

The only closer stars than Barnard's Star are part of the triple-star system Alpha Centauri, located a bit more than 4 light-years from our solar system. The researchers believe that it is an icy desert with no liquid water, a hostile environment where the average surface temperature is around minus-274 degrees Fahrenheit. Using sophisticated instruments, including Carnegie's Planet Finding Spectrograph, astronomers can detect the tiny wobbles that the planet's gravity induces in the star's orbit. Light from Barnard's Star provides its planet with only 2% of the energy the Earth receives from the Sun. When the planet moves closer to the star, the starlight is shifted toward shorter, blue wavelengths (called blueshift) and when the planet moves farther away from the star, the starlight shifts toward longer, red wavelengths (called redshift).

The fastest spacecraft humans have invented is the Parker Solar Probe, launched this year, that can travel as fast as 430,000 miles per hour.

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Video: This video from the Institute of Space Studies of Catalonia/Science-Wave describes a newly detected candidate for a planet.

"After a very careful analysis, we are over 99% confident that the planet is there, since this is the model that best fits our observations", added Ignasi Ribas, of the Institute of Space Studies of Catalonia (IEEC), who led the team that found the planet, on Tuesday. "Certainly, even with our current technology, we could launch unmanned probes to send back pictures of this planet".

"It was not only about getting new data but also about understanding the systematic effects". A clear signal at a period of 233 days arose again and again. This will likely include a search for gases like oxygen and methane in the planet's atmosphere, which might be markers for biology. Meanwhile, the focus has shifted to nearby stars, as astronomers have started building a catalog of targets for the next generation of telescopes. In addition, these exoplanets are also the most common type of objects to originate around low-mass stars such as Barnard's Star, providing further evidence that this new discovery is indeed impressive! We don't want another van de Kemp scenario.

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However, van de Kamp's claims proved controversial, as other scientists were not able to reproduce his finding. While not yet strong enough to rule out a false detection, the researchers figured out what it would mean anyway: a Neptune-sized planet orbiting slightly closer than Jupiter orbits in our Solar System. "The signal would have been too small for the technique he was using", said Guillem Anglada Escudé.

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