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The nearest single star to the sun apparently hosts a big, icy planet.
Astronomers have found strong evidence of a frigid alien world about 3.2 times more massive than Earth circling Barnard's Star, a dim red dwarf that lies just 6 light-years from the sun. Barnard's Star is our sun's nearest neighbor, apart from the three-star Alpha Centauri system, which is about 4.3 light-years away.
Analysis - Confident - Planet - Ignasi - Ribas
"After a very careful analysis, we are 99 percent confident that the planet is there," Ignasi Ribas, of the Institute of Space Studies of Catalonia and the Institute of Space Sciences in Spain, said in a statement.
"However, we'll continue to observe this fast-moving star to exclude possible, but improbable, natural variations of the stellar brightness which could masquerade as a planet," added Ribas, the lead author of a new study announcing the detection of Barnard's Star b. That study was published online today (Nov. 14) in the journal Nature.
Artist - Illustration - Surface - Planet - Candidate
An artist's illustration of the surface of the "super-Earth" planet candidate detected around Barnard's star, which lies just 6 light-years from the sun.
Barnard's Star b, if confirmed, will not be the nearest exoplanet to Earth. That designation is held by the roughly Earth-size world Proxima b, which orbits Proxima Centauri, one of the Alpha Centauri trio.
NASA - Kepler - Space - Telescope - Planets
NASA's Kepler space telescope showed that small planets are common in the Milky Way galaxy at large. Together, Proxima b and Barnard's Star b strongly suggest that such worlds "are also common in our neighborhood," study co-author Johanna Teske, of the Department of Terrestrial Magnetism at the Carnegie Institution for Science in Washington, D.C., told Space.com. "And that is super-exciting."
Barnard's Star is named after the American astronomer E.E. Barnard, who in 1916 discovered the speediness Ribas mentioned. No other star moves faster across Earth's sky than Barnard's Star, which travels about the...
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