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Scientists search for planets orbiting Barnard’s Star

Barnard's star is a low-mass red dwarf almost six light-years away and the second-closest stellar system to our Sun after the Alpha Centauri triple-star system.

Scientists at several observatories are collaborating on a project to search for exoplanets orbiting the relatively near Barnard’s Star, a low-mass red dwarf just six light years from Earth.

Suspicions that a cold super-Earth may be orbiting the star has brought together researchers at the National Science Foundation’s Arecibo Observatory, the University of Puerto Rico at Arecibo’s Planetary Habitability Laboratory, and the European Southern Observatory’s (ESO) Red Dots program, who plan to look for planets in both optical and radio wavelengths.

Barnard’s Star is the nearest to our solar system after Alpha Centauri, where a planet has been found orbiting one of the system’s three stars, Proxima Centauri b.

The Arecibo Observatory discovered the first known exoplanets in 1992, three small worlds orbiting a stellar remnant known as a pulsar.

Three years later, the observatory discovered the first planet orbiting a normal, Sun-like star. Today, its scientists are focusing on looking for planets orbiting nearby red dwarf stars, which are fainter and less massive than our Sun.

Scientists at Arecibo have already observed eight nearby red dwarf stars. Results of those observations are currently under analysis.

The researchers are attempting to detect radio emissions produced by stellar flares to find anything that might be perturbing the stars, such as an orbiting planet.

Yet the observatory has only imaged Barnard’s Star once, as part of the SETI Institute’s Phoenix Project, an effort to locate extraterrestrial civilizations by listening for radio signals coming from the direction of specific stars.

That will change on Sunday, July  16, when Arecibo, along with several other observatories, will conduct photometric and spectral observations of the star.

ESO’s exoplanet hunter observatory in La Silla, Chile, which uses the transit method, searching for dimming of individual stars caused by the passage or transit of an orbiting planet in front of them, will probe Barnard’s Star in the hope of detecting an orbiting planet.

The Red Dots team, which will operate the ESO exoplanet hunter, will also look at another red dwarf star, Ross 128, from which scientists believe they previously detected radio emissions.

 

Laurel Kornfeld

Laurel Kornfeld

Staff Writer
Laurel Kornfeld is a freelance writer and amateur astronomer from Highland Park, NJ, who enjoys writing about astronomy and planetary science. She studied journalism at Douglass College, Rutgers University, and earned a Graduate Certificate of Science in astronomy from Swinburne University’s Astronomy Online program.
About Laurel Kornfeld (1100 Articles)
Laurel Kornfeld is a freelance writer and amateur astronomer from Highland Park, NJ, who enjoys writing about astronomy and planetary science. She studied journalism at Douglass College, Rutgers University, and earned a Graduate Certificate of Science in astronomy from Swinburne University’s Astronomy Online program.