Alien life may ex­ist on newly dis­cov­ered Barnard’s star planet, ac­cord­ing to astronomers

Tehran Times - - SCIENCE -

Barnard’s Star, a nearby star sys­tem lo­cated just six light-years away, is or­bited by a frozen Su­per-Earth. The ex­o­planet called Barnard b (or GJ 699 b) was dis­cov­ered only two months ago.

Re­searchers who found the planet do not think the icy world could sup­port life be­cause of its ex­treme con­di­tions. Barnard b only re­ceives about 2 per­cent of ra­di­a­tion our home planet gets from the sun and its sur­face tem­per­a­ture is nearly -275 de­grees Fahren­heit.

A new group of astronomers, how­ever, is more op­ti­mistic, say­ing alien life could po­ten­tially thrive on some parts of the planet.

Ed­ward Guinan, from Vil­lanova Univer­sity in Penn­syl­va­nia, and col­leagues sug­gested that heat gen­er­ated by geo­ther­mal pro­cesses could warm pock­ets of wa­ter be­neath the icy world’s sur­face, which could po­ten­tially sup­port the evo­lu­tion of life.

Guinan and col­league Scott En­gle, also from Vil­lanova Univer­sity, found that while Barnard b could be too cold for liq­uid wa­ter and prob­a­bly life to ex­ist on its sur­face, it may have sub­sur­face oceans de­pend­ing on how big it is. These oceans could form on rocky worlds.

If Barnard’s Star b in­deed has a mass 3.2 times greater than Earth’s as cur­rently thought, it could be a rocky su­per-Earth. If its mass is seven or eight times more than that of our planet, it would be a smaller ver­sion of Nep­tune, which could means that like the So­lar Sys­tem’s blue gas gi­ant, the ex­o­planet would not have enough sur­face for life to evolve on and would likely be in­hab­it­able.

Re­searchers are not yet pre­cisely sure how large the planet is, but once it launches, NASA’s James Webb Space Te­le­scope could help de­ter­mine the size of this Su­per-Earth and whether or not it has the right size for sub­sur­face oceans to ex­ist.

“Su­per-Earths may have a ca­pa­bil­ity of hav­ing ex­tra geo­ther­mal en­ergy that could, if it had wa­ter ice around it, melt the ice in places,” Guinan said.

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