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Barnard b, a recently discovered super-Earth exoplanet orbiting Barnard’s Star, could potentially harbor primitive life.

Despite its freezing surface (probably about -170 ℃/-274 ℉), there may be hope for the foreign world—assuming it has a large, hot iron/nickel core and enhanced geothermal activity.

“Geothermal heating could support ‘life zones’ under its surface, akin to subsurface lakes found in Antarctica,” Villanova University astrophysicist and study co-author Edward Guinan said in a statement.

“We note that the surface temperature on Jupiter’s icy moon Europa is similar to Barnard b,” he explained. “But, because of tidal heating, Europa probably has liquid oceans under its icy surface.”

The discovery of Barnard’s Star b was announced in November via a paper published in the journal Nature.

Spotted using data from a global array of telescopes, the dimly lit world is the second-closest known exoplanet to Earth.

It has a mass at least 3.2 times that of our globe, orbits its host star—a cool, low-mass red dwarf—in roughly 233 days, and is about twice as old as the Sun (9 billion years, compared to 4.6 billion years).

“The universe has been producing Earth-size planets far longer than we, or even the Sun itself, have existed,” Villanova’s Scott Engle said.

Despite relative closeness to Barnard’s Star (0.4 times the distance between Earth and the Sun), the exoplanet receives little energy from its faded host: only 2 percent that which the Sun provides us.

Add to that its proximity to the snow line, where water quickly condenses into solid ice, and the freezing world could reach temperatures well below bearable conditions for humans.

Based on 15 years of high-precision photometry of Barnard’s Star (among dozens of others), researchers have pieced together a comprehensive study. It may even be possible for Barnard b to be imaged by future very large telescopes.

“Such observations will shed light on the nature of the planet’s atmosphere, surface, and potential habitability,” according to Guinan.

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