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.
Barnard b May Have Subsurface Oceans Depending On Its Size
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
The new research was presented at the annual meeting of the American Astronomical Society in Seattle on Thursday, Jan. 10.