There’s a rocky planet out there that’s very big and cold. Its sun, a red dwarf named “Barnard’s star” looks much larger in its sky than Earth’s. It bathes the planet in X-rays and ultraviolet light, likely enough radiation to strip away any atmosphere. But Barnard’s star is also much dimmer than Earth’s host star, so the planet’s surface is probably a frozen wasteland — the sort of place that likely wouldn’t have any liquid water, and that most scientists wouldn’t expect to support life.
But a new analysis suggests that the planet, named Barnard B, might give rise to life after all.
In a presentation on Jan. 10 at the 233rd meeting of the American Astronomical Society in Seattle, Washington, a pair of Villanova astronomers argued that if Barnard B had enough geothermal activity, it might have pockets of heat on its surface where life might survive.
Barnard B is still too small and far away for our current generation of telescopes to image directly. Instead, scientists know it’s there and they know its general characteristics — a rocky planet more than three times the mass of Earth about as close to its star as Mercury is to ours — from studying the way it makes light coming from Barnard’s star wiggle.