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A Super-Earth Orbiting Barnard’s Star

14 Nov 2018, 18:33 UTC
A Super-Earth Orbiting Barnard’s Star
(200 words excerpt, click title or image to see full post)

The detection of a planet around Barnard’s Star really hits home for me. No, this isn’t a habitable world, but the whole topic of planets around this star has resonance for those of us who remember the earliest days of exoplanet study, which could be extended back to Peter van de Kamp’s work at Swarthmore’s Sproul Observatory in Pennsylvania. The astronomer thought he had found evidence for a 1.6 Jupiter mass planet in a 4.4 AU orbit there, based on what he interpreted as telltale wobbles in photographic plates of the star taken between 1916 and 1962.
This work, ending in the early 1970s, turned out to be the result of errors in the instrument van de Kamp was using, but the buzz about possible planets around Barnard’s Star had been sufficient to create a small crest of enthusiasm for exoplanet studies in general. The British Interplanetary Society saw in Barnard’s Star a target worth investigating, and designed their Daedalus star probe around a mission there. In any case, van de Kamp’s assumption that planetary systems were common has been proven out, and now we do have a planet around this star, though not the one that the Swarthmore researcher ...

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