The scientists said on Wednesday that the "super-Earth" was discovered around orbit the nearest unique star in a breakthrough that could shine on the planet's closest planetary neighbors.
Astronomers studied Barnard's Old Red Dwarf, just six light-years away – practically in our back garden, galactically speaking – and noticed the presence of a "frozen, poorly lit world" at least 3.2 times heavier than the Earth.
Planet, known as Barnard's star b, the other closest to the Earth outside the Solar System and orbiting its star star once every 233 days.
"It's important because it really is our neighbors neighborhood and we love to meet with our neighbors in general," said Ignasi Ribas of the Institute for Space Studies of Catalonia and the Spanish Institute for Space Science.
Despite being relatively close to its parent star, the planet receives less than two percent of the energy the Earth receives from the Sun, and the team estimates that it has a temperature of -170 degrees Celsius (-274 Farenheit) – too cold to support life as we know it.
"It's definitely not in the narrower zone, there is no running water. If there's any water or gas, it's probably in solid form, so we call it frozen," Ribas said.
Darkness of the red dwarf
In an attempt by mankind to map planets in the night sky, most historical research is focused on brighter, new stars, producing more light and increasing the chances that scientists notice that they were circular around them.
But since Barnard's star is a red dwarf, a small and cool star, probably twice as old as the Sun, produces relatively little light that makes it difficult to detect any body in its orbit.
In order to find Barnard's Star b, Ribas and the team studied more than 20 years of observation from seven different instruments.
They then used a phenomenon known as the Doppler effect to monitor the impact of a gravity strike on the parent star.
Astronomers can use this technique to measure the speed of the planet and, therefore, the mass.
"We have all worked hard on this breakthrough," said Guillem Anglada Escude, of London's Kueen Mari University, co-author of the study published in Nature.
The team worked with the European Southern Observatory using astronomical instruments so accurately that they can detect changes in the velocity of a star of 3.5 kilometers per hour – a gentle step of walks.
It is thought that Barnard's star spans around 500,000 km / h, making it the fastest moving object in the universe.
Ribas said that although stargazers can predict their size and orbit with relative accuracy using the Doppler effect, any attempt at this stage to find out about the appearance of a new planet would be "speculation."
"It's something in the gentle area in relation to its properties. We have seen that planets of this mass are stones, which means it could look like a solid-grounded Earth with potentially some atmosphere or some frozen layer at the top," he said. .
"Or it may be what we call mini-Neptune, as a reduced version of the gas giant of our solar system."
It may be cold, unacceptable, and everything else, but invisible, but the new planet has one thing to do: it's really close.
The only known exoplanet closer to Earth was discovered in 2016, surrounded by one of the stars in the Alpha Centauri system, just over four light years away.
"There is not such a star in our immediate neighborhood. The investment to find them is expensive," Ribas said.
"It's really close and, therefore, if you have the hope – like me – to see how these planets are studied in depth, we need to start with the immediate. It can potentially lead to other discoveries."