E.T. might actually be out there, scientists have said in a shocking new development. He just might live on a planet 30 trillion miles from Earth, though.
A new paper published by astrophysicists at Villanova University suggests that the planet that orbits Barnard's Star – known as Barnard b – could have the potential for extraterrestrial life if water exists on the planet. That's due to the possibility of geothermal heating, which could create an ocean for primitive life.
“Geothermal heating could support “life zones” under its surface, akin to subsurface lakes found in Antarctica,” said Edward Guinan in a statement.
The temperature on Barnard B is similar to Jupiter's moon, Europa, at roughly 238 degrees below zero, but given the likely presence of oceans on the Jupiter lunar satellite, the astrophysicists are holding out hope the newly discovered planet may also harbor oceans.
“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," Guinan added in the statement.
For comparison purposes, rubber freezes below -98 °F / -72 °C and human blood freezes between -2°C and -3°C.
Guinan, who worked on the paper alongside Scott Engle, presented the findings at the American Astronomy Society (AAS) in Seattle on Thursday.
Though Barnard b was only discovered a few months ago, Barnard's Star has been on the radar of the astrophysicists for some time, Guinan added. “In 2003 it became a founding star member of the Villanova ‘Living with a Red Dwarf’ program that has been sponsored by the National Science Foundation/National Aeronautical and Space Administration (NASA)."
Barnard's Star is the second closest red dwarf star to our solar system (after Proxima Centauri), at 30 trillion miles from Earth. The team of researchers who discovered the planet in November combined 20 years worth of data from seven separate instruments to make their conclusion
Some have speculated that Barnard b is unlikely to be a host to life given the distance from its star and that it may not possess an atmosphere, but Guinan and Engle are not giving up hope.
“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. 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,” Engle noted. “Also, Barnard’s Star is about twice as old as the Sun – about 9 billion years old compared to 4.6 billion years for the Sun. The universe has been producing Earth-size planets far longer than we, or even the Sun itself, have existed.”
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