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'super-earth' discovered orbiting the nearest star to the Sun - expert comment

A planet three times larger than Earth has been detected orbiting the nearest star to the Sun. Professor Don Pollacco and Dr David Brown from Warwick's Astronomy and Astrophysics Group explain more about how the discovery was made and what it means for the study of exoplanets - planets outside our own solar system.

Professor Pollacco said: "Barnards Star was first suspected as having a planet in the 1950’s. Unfortunately, these early measurements were at the limit of their technical feasibility at the time and have not stood the test of time, especially with improved technology.

"Now a European team using a state-of-the-art high precision instrument have detected the weak signal from a planet at least 3.2 earth masses.

"The planet is not in the so-called HZ of Barnards star and its surface temperature could be as low as -150C - but could be much higher depending on the planets atmosphere.

"Barnard’s star is classed as an M-dwarf and is the most common type of star. This discovery demonstrates that planets are likely common to all stars - if we can detect them."

Dr Brown added: "The discovery of an exoplanet around Barnard’s Star is exciting.

"This has taken decades of careful observations, all leading to the detection of a signal no faster than walking pace.

"Not only is this planet likely low-mass, but the length of its orbit around Barnard’s Star puts it in a region where we think planets form. So there is potential to learn a lot about planet formation from this discovery. Other observational techniques will also teach us more about this planet in the future.”

15 November 2018

  • Professor Pollacco and Dr Brown are available for interview today.


Peter Thorley

Media Relations Manager

Warwick Medical School and Department of Physics

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07824 540863