Primitive life on Barnard’s Star? | 1/12/2019 | Deborah Byrd
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Artist’s concept of our inner solar system – Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars – in contrast to Barnard’s star and its planet, Barnard b. The planet is near its star, but the star is dim and doesn’t provide much heat. A new study probes the possibility for life on Barnard b. Image via Villanova University.

Here’s more exciting work regarding the newly discovered super-Earth exoplanet orbiting the legendary Barnard’s Star. This star is the closest single star (and now the second-closest star system) to our own sun at only six light-years away. Astronomers announced its new-found planet – labeled Barnard b (or GJ 699 b) – as recently as November, 2018. Last week (January 10, 2019) – at the 233rd meeting of the American Astronomical Society (AAS) in Seattle, Washington – astronomers from Villanova University explained their new work showing that – although this world is likely cold (-170 degrees centigrade) – it could still have the potential to harbor primitive life.

Thing - Barnard - Star - B - Mass

Here’s the thing about Barnard’s Star b, whose mass is just over three times that of Earth. It orbits Barnard’s Star – a dim red dwarf – every 233 days, at roughly the same distance that Mercury orbits our sun. In the Barnard’s Star system, though, this distance is near the star’s snow line, that is, the point where heat from Barnard’s star needed to keep water molecules as vapor ends. Past the snow line, water can become ice.

In order for Barnard b to have some form of life, these astronomers said, the planet needs another heat source. They suggested a large, hot iron/nickel core – much as Earth has – and enhanced geothermal activity.

Edward - Guinan - Scott - Engle - Villanova

Edward Guinan and Scott Engle of Villanova made the announcement; you can see their paper as a poster from the AAS meeting. Guinan said:

Geothermal heating could support...
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