What's Up? by Adam England
After the Alpha Centauri star system, the next-closest star to Earth is Barnard’s Star.
As early as 1934, science-fiction writers imagined this star surrounded by habitable planets. Now one of the most-referenced stars in science fiction, Barnard’s Star has been featured in dozens of books, movies, shows and video games, including as a rest stop for travelers in Douglas Adams' The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.
The first good evidence of a planetary system was in 1963, when astronomer Peter van de Kamp used data going back to 1938 to measure minor movements in the star’s orbit, which he attributed to the gravitational pull of at least one large planet. His prediction was verified in 2018, when astronomers announced a 3.2 Earth-mass planet orbiting every 233 days. Named “Barnard’s Star b,” the super-Earth orbits 60% closer to its host star than we do to our sun. Even at that distance the planet is presumed to have an average surface temperature of −274°F because the star is a much dimmer and cooler red dwarf.
Located in the constellation Ophiuchus, “The Serpent Bearer,” Barnard’s Star is best seen in the Northern Hemisphere during the summer months, opposite Orion. It's not visible to the naked eye, but can be found with a moderate backyard telescope.
To learn more about the sky, telescopes, orsocialize with other amateur astronomers, visit us at prescottastronomyclub.org or Facebook @PrescottAstronomyClub to find the next star party, Star Talk, or event.
Adam England is a local insurance broker who moonlights as an amateur astronomer, writer, and interplanetary conquest consultant. Follow his rants and exploits on Twitter @AZSalesman or at Facebook.com/AdamEfromAZ.