New “Super-Earth” Discovered 6 Light-Years Away


Bella Trimmer, Staff Writer

Astronomers have recently discovered a new frozen exoplanet just a few light years away from Earth. It’s classified as a “Super-Earth,” which is a planet with larger masses than Earth but not quite as large as those of ice giants like Uranus and Neptune. This “Super-Earth” is about three times the mass of Earth and much, much colder; the average temperature on this new planet is about -238°F. The planet is orbiting Barnard’s star, the closest solitary star to our sun, but the planet is only provided 2% of the energy the Earth receives from our sun. And although the planet lies well beyond the star’s habitable zone in which liquid water, and possibly life, could exist, scientists still have high hopes regarding this discovery. “This remarkable planet gives us a key piece in the puzzle of planetary formation and evolution,” Rodrigo Díaz, an astronomer at the University of Buenos Aires in Argentina, said in an article accompanying the study. The study was published Wednesday in the peer-reviewed British journal Nature.

This planet is the second closest exoplanet—a planet found outside our own solar system— to Earth. According to CNN, “The exoplanet was found after stitching together 20 years of data, including 771 individual measurements, from seven instruments.” This discovery was a long time in the making, but the world of astronomy is excited. “This is an extremely exciting new planet candidate,” Sarah Ballard, an MIT scientist not involved with the research, told Sky and Telescope. She cautioned that “I wouldn’t buy a ticket to Barnard’s Star just yet, knowing that there’s a 1 percent chance the planet isn’t there.”

“After a very careful analysis, we are 99 percent confident that the planet is there,” Ignasi Ribas, of the Institute of Space Studies of Catalonia and the Institute of Space Sciences in Spain, said in a statement.