Finding new planets is always exciting, of course. But what’s even more exciting is finding one that’s only six light years away. It may sound far, but it’s actually the second closest planet to our solar system, and scientists think that this “Super-Earth” could be important to future findings.
How did they find it?
Obviously, we didn’t send astronauts out there looking for it— six light years may be close in terms of the universe, but it’s a bit far for us humans at the moment. Scientists instead used what’s called the radial velocity method.
This is actually pretty cool: scientists took data from over 20 years of observations of Barnard’s star (the red dwarf around which our new “Super-Earth” is orbiting) and detected wobbles in it. It’s pretty hard to find planets this way, but easier than waiting for light-speed travel to be invented.
What’s it like?
This planet may be a “Super-Earth”, but it’s quite a bit different than our own home planet. It’s about 0.4 times further from its red dwarf than Earth is from our sun, so scientists think the chances of it having liquid water are pretty low.
If it’s a rocky planet, they also think it’s frozen pretty solid. Scientists currently think the average temperature of the planet is around -270 degrees Fahrenheit. It’s also much larger, sitting at about 3.2x the mass of our Earth, with an orbit of about 233 days.
What’s so important about this planet?
As one scientist stated, we currently know of about 4,000 planets, so knowing about one more isn’t that exciting in and of itself. What is exciting, however, is that this planet is so close to our own.
We’re working hard to discover more about our immediate universal neighborhood, and this is an important step in finding out more about our closest neighbors. Scientists can use the same technique to find out even more about our neighboring planets— maybe we’ll find an even closer one someday.