Astronomy: The Mysterious Companions Of Barnard's Star

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The astronomer sees some similarity between the larger planets of the solar system and Barnard's two planets, which he has named Bl and B2. Both revolve in the same direction and in approximately the same plane—just as the sun's planets do. Bl, which is slightly more massive than Jupiter, is about 450 million miles from Barnard and circles it once every 26 earth years. B2, about four-fifths as massive as Jupiter, is 250 million miles away and has a period of 12 earth years. There could also be other planets in orbit around Barnard's star, Van de Kamp says, but like the smaller solar-system planets, their effect on the course of their star might not be detectable at great distances. The comparison with the solar system stops there. Barnard's star is some 2,000 times less luminous than the sun. Thus, says the astronomer, "there is no possibility of life as we know it on any of Barnard's planets because it is so terribly cold."

Astronomer Van de Kamp is confident his photographic plates and mathematics leave no doubt that two planets are circling Barnard's star. Still, he frankly admits that he would welcome an actual sighting. "One of these days," he says, "someone will see Bl and B2 and I will say 'Well, I told you so.' But at the same time, I will take a deep breath of relief."

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