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50 years ago, astronomers challenged claims that Barnard’s star has a planet

An illustration of an exoplanet in orbit around a star.

For decades, scientists and science fiction authors have speculated about whether Barnard’s star, the fastest moving star in the night sky and just six light-years from the sun, might host a planet (one illustrated).

M. Kornmesser/ESO

Cover of the December 1, 1973 issue of Science News

No planet for Barnard’s star? — Science News, December 1, 1973

Over the years evidence has been brought forward for planetary companions revolving around two or three stars other than the sun. The first of these was Barnard’s star, which had been studied by Peter van de Kamp…. The presence of a planet could cause a wobble in a star’s motion across the sky. Van de Kamp found a wobble.… [Further] scrutiny does not find the [wobble].… Thus there would be no planet.


Astronomers now know of thousands of exoplanets in the Milky Way (SN: 4/23/22, p. 5). But Barnard’s star is still without a confirmed exoplanet despite careful scrutiny. A 2018 claim of an exoplanet about three times as massive as Earth has been questioned. In July, a survey of 200 low-mass red dwarfs, including Barnard’s star, found no Jupiter-sized exoplanets (SN: 7/15/23 & 7/29/23, p. 9). Such stars may have enough debris around them to form only small exoplanets.

Emily Conover

Physics writer Emily Conover has a Ph.D. in physics from the University of Chicago. She is a two-time winner of the D.C. Science Writers’ Association Newsbrief award.

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