Super-Earth orbiting Barnard’s star potentially has atmosphere and life

There is a possibility that super-Earth planet orbiting the Barnard b (or GJ 699 b) star could potentially be having atmosphere and possibly life.

The planet is likely cold (-170 degrees centigrade), but scientists believe that it could still have the potential to harbor primitive life if it has a large, hot iron/nickel core and enhanced geothermal activity. Scientists have published their findings in a paper titled, “X-Ray, UV, Optical Irradiances and Age of Barnard’s Star’s New Super Earth Planet — ‘Can Life Find a Way’ on Such a Cold Planet?” [PDF].

Scientists say that geothermal heating could support ‘life zones’ under its surface, akin to subsurface lakes found in Antarctica. They say that 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 discovery of Barnard’s Star b was announced in November 2018 in the academic journal Nature. An international team of researchers led by Ribas of the Institute of Space Studies of Catalonia (IEEC), and Institute of Space Sciences (ICE, CSIC) based its analysis on 18 years of observations combined with newly acquired data.

Barnard’s Star b, with a mass just over three times that of the Earth, orbits Barnard’s Star, a red dwarf star, every 233 days and at roughly the same distance that Mercury orbits the Sun. It passes near the dim star’s snow line.

Scientists have obtained high-precision photometry of Barnard’s Star (as well as dozens of other stars) for the past 15 years. This data, along with that of other observers, was included in a recent comprehensive study led by Borja Toledo-Padrón, a doctoral student at the Institute of Astrophysics of the Canary Islands, University of La Laguna. Although very faint, it may be possible for Barnard b to be imaged by future very large telescopes, according to Guinan. “Such observations will shed light on the nature of the planet’s atmosphere, surface, and potential habitability,” he added.

Jonas Steeb

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