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As of November 8, humanity has confirmed the existence of 3,837 exoplanets—quite an extraordinary feat, considering that before this decade the number was less than 500. Most, unfortunately, are hundreds or even thousands of light-years away, and it’s highly unlikely we’ll be able to study these worlds directly any time soon. But a handful are a little closer to home—including a frozen super-Earth just six light-years away, recently found thanks to a new technique for tracking and identifying exoplanets close to our neighborhood.
In a paper published in Nature on Wednesday, an international team of astronomers report finding a new exoplanet orbiting Barnard’s star, the second closest neighboring star system to Earth (after Alpha Centauri’s triple star system), and long thought to be devoid of any planets of its own. Named Barnard’s star b (or GJ 699 b), the planet is a hefty 3.2-times the Earth’s mass, with a 233-day orbit around the star itself.
Freezing - Hellscape - Host - Star - Chance
It’s also a freezing hellscape, sitting far from its host star and removed from any decent chance to collect meaningful rays. The authors of the paper suspect temperatures average out to an ungodly -238 degrees Fahrenheit. That’s more than 100 degrees colder than the most frigid reading ever taken on Earth.
“I think it is a stretch to call this planet potentially habitable,” says Johanna Teske, a researcher at the Carnegie Institution for Science in Washington, D.C., and a co-author of the new paper. “It is too cold to have liquid water on the surface, which is basically the definition of the habitable zone,” the orbital region around a star where temperatures would be moderate enough for liquid water to exist. Liquid water is generally considered a crucial component in the evolution of life, or at least life as we know it.
Bit - Downer
That’s a bit of a downer, but...
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