Barnard's Star b
Source: Smithsonian Magazine
In a new study, scientists have highlighted the possibility of finding life around the nearest single star to the Sun.
Situated a mere six light years away, Barnard's Star - which is named after American astronomer E. E. Barnard - is home to a recently discovered super-Earth planet known as Barnard b.
Now according to astronomers from Villanova University, this relatively nearby world, despite seeing temperatures of -170 degrees Celsius, could potentially harbor primitive extraterrestrial life forms.
At the recent annual meeting of the American Astronomical Society (AAS) in Seattle, Washington, the researchers explained that the planet, which orbits its star every 233 days at roughly the same distance as Mercury orbits the Sun, would need to have a hot iron/nickel core and ongoing geothermal activity in order to support life as we know it.
"Geothermal heating could support 'life zones' under its surface, akin to subsurface lakes found in Antarctica," said study co-author Edward Guinan.
"We note that the 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 existence of Barnard b also tells us more about the prevalence of such planets in the galaxy.
"The most significant aspect of the discovery of Barnard's star b is that the two nearest star systems to the Sun are now known to host planets," said co-author Scott Engle.
"This supports previous studies based on Kepler mission data, inferring that planets can be very common throughout the galaxy, even numbering in the tens of billions."