A Frozen Super-Earth May Orbit Barnard’s Star

The proof for or against a lonely, crowded universe may be surprisingly close at hand, celestially speaking. In 2016, years of scrutiny at last revealed an Earth-size world right next door, in a temperate orbit around the smallest member of Alpha Centauri, a triple-star system that at 4.4 light-years away is the closest to our sun. Now, another exhaustive search of our solar system’s next-nearest neighbor, Barnard’s Star, just shy of six light-years distant, has uncovered a candidate planet there, too — a bigger, colder super-Earth provisionally dubbed Barnard’s Star b. Achieved by an international team of more than 60 astronomers using observatories from around the world, the planetary discovery is detailed in a study in the November 14 Nature. It opens the floodgates for future investigations of — and comparisons between — the two familiar-but-alien planets closest to our solar system.

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