"Super Earth" was discovered around the sun's closest star to our sun, scientists said on Wednesday in a breakthrough that could illuminate the stars in the planet's closest planet.
The astronomers studied the star of Bernard, a red dwarf just six light-years away-almost in our backyard, galactic-and observed the presence of a "frozen world, dimly lit" at least three times more than Earth.
The planet, now known as Bernard's Star B, is the second closest to the Earth outside the solar system and orbits its host planet every 233 days.
"It's important because it really is because our neighbors and we love to meet our neighbors in general," said Ignasi Ribas, of the Space Research Institute of Catalonia and the Institute of Space Science of Spain, AFP.
Although relatively close to its parent star, the planet receives less than two percent of Earth's energy from the sun, and the team estimates it has an ambient temperature of 170 degrees Fahrenheit – too cold to support life as we know it.
"It's definitely not in the living area, there's no liquid water, if it has water or gas it's probably a solid form so we call it frozen," Reeves said.
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– Darkness of a Red Dwarf –
In humanity's attempt to map the planets in the night sky, most of the historical research has focused on new, brighter stars that produce more light and increase scientists' chance of perceiving everything that surrounds them.
But since Bernard's "star" is a red dwarf, a small star, and a cooling, probably double that of the sun, it produces a relatively small light, making it difficult to distinguish objects on its orbit.
To find the star of Bernard, Reeves and the team have examined more than 20 years of observations from seven separate devices.
They then used a phenomenon known as the Doppler effect to track the effect of its gravity on the parent star.
Astronomers can use this technique to measure the speed of the planet and, therefore, mass.
"We all worked very hard on this breakthrough," said Goyam Englada Escud of the Queen Mary University in London, who wrote the study published in the journal Nature.
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– Mini Neptune? –
The team has worked with the European Southern Observatory using astronomical instruments so accurate that they can detect changes in the speed of a star as small as 3.5 kilometers per hour – a gentle walking pace.
It is thought that Bernard's star is ripping in space at around 500,000 km / h, making it the fastest known object in the world.
Ribas said that although stargazers can predict the size and trajectory with relative accuracy using the Doppler effect, each attempt at this stage to find out how the new star looks like will be "guessing".
"This is roughly a blurry area relative to its properties, we have seen planets of this mass are rocky, meaning it can look like Earth with a solid surface with some potential atmosphere or a frozen layer up," he said. .
"Or maybe that's what we call mini-Neptune, like an expanded version of the gas giants of our solar system."
It can be cold, inhospitable and all but invisible but the new planet has one thing going for it: it's really close.
The only known exponent close to Earth was discovered in 2016 around a single orbit of stars in the Alpha Centauri system, more than four light-years away.
"There are not many stars in our immediate neighborhood, and the investment to find them will happen," Reeves said.
"It's really close so if you have the hope – as I do – of finally seeing these planets to learn them in detail we need to start with these immediate ones, that can potentially lead to other discoveries."