A NEARBY “super Earth” planet could serve as a home for alien life, scientists have revealed.
Barnard b is a recently discovered planet orbiting Barnard’s Star, making it the second nearest star system to Earth.
An artist’s impression of Barnard’s star b[/caption]
At just six light years away, Barnard b is believed to be extremely cold, at around -150C.
But it could be a better home than we had realised when it was discovered.
If it has a big iron and nickle core and geothermal activity, as scientists predict, it might be able to harbour primitive life.
Villanova University astrophysicists Edward Guinan and Scott Engle announced their findings at a major meeting of astronomers.
The researchers suggest that Barnard b, might be surprisingly habitable as a result of the processes that are happening underneath its surface.
Guinan said:“Geothermal heating could support ‘life zones’ under its surface, akin to subsurface lakes found in Antarctica. We note that the surface temperature on Jupiter’s icy moon Europa is similar to Barnard b but, because of tidal heating, Europa probably has liquid oceans under its icy surface.”
The planet has a mass just over three times that of the Earth, and goes around its star every 233 days, at roughly the same distance that Mercury orbits the Sun.
Researchers now hope they can look more at the planet in an attempt to understand its “atmosphere, surface, and potential habitability”.
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It is very faint in the sky, but future large telescopes could allow us to get a better look at it.
Engle said: “The most significant aspect of the discovery of Barnard’s star b is that the two nearest star systems to the Sun are now known to host planets. This supports previous studies based on Kepler Mission data, inferring that planets can be very common throughout the galaxy, even numbering in the tens of billions.
“Also, Barnard’s Star is about twice as old as the Sun – about 9 billion years old compared to 4.6 billion years for the Sun. The universe has been producing Earth-size planets far longer than we, or even the Sun itself, have existed.”
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