Light from 'Super Earth' recorded in
55 Cancri e
is twice the size of our home planet
what astronomers are calling a historic achievement, light from an
alien "super-Earth," twice the size of our own Earth has been
detected by a NASA space telescope for the first time. NASA's
infrared Spitzer Space Telescope spotted light from the alien planet
55 Cancri e, which orbits a star 41 light-years from Earth. A year
on the 55 Cancri e lasts only 18 hours.
55 Cancri e stands out because it is
ultra-dense and orbits extremely close to its parent star, which is
about 26 times closer than the distance between Mercury and our own
LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online):
First discovered in 2004, the planet 55 Cancri e
is not a habitable world. It's called "super-Earth" because of
its size. The world is about twice the width of Earth and is
super-dense, with about eight times the mass of Earth.
scientists have never managed to detect the infrared light from
the super-Earth planet until now.
"Spitzer has amazed us yet again," Spitzer program scientist
Bill Danch of NASA headquarters says. "The spacecraft is
pioneering the study of atmospheres of distant planets and
paving the way for NASA's upcoming James Webb Space Telescope to
apply a similar technique on potentially habitable planets."
Spitzer first detected infrared light from an alien planet in
2005, a "hot Jupiter," a gas giant planet much larger than 55
Cancri e that orbited extremely close to its parent star.
Other telescopes have performed similar feats since then.
However, Spitzer's view of the 55 Cancri e is the first time the
light from a rocky super-Earth type planet has been seen,
Since the discovery of 55 Cancri e, astronomers have pinned down
amazing features about the planet. The researchers already knew
it was part of an alien solar system containing five exoplanets
centered on the star 55 Cancri in the constellation Cancer (The
55 Cancri e stands out because it is ultra-dense and orbits
extremely close to its parent star, which is about 26 times
closer than the distance between Mercury and our own sun.
The new Spitzer observations revealed that the star-facing side
of 55 Cancri e is extremely hot, with temperatures reaching up
to 3,140 degrees Fahrenheit. The planet is likely a dark world
that lacks the substantial atmosphere needed to warm its
nighttime side, researchers said.
The planet is also brimming with supercritical fluids. Past
observations of the planet by the Spitzer Space Telescope have
suggested that one-fifth of 55 Cancri e is made up of lighter
elements, including water. But the extreme temperatures and
pressures on 55 Cancri e would create what scientists call a
"supercritical fluid" state.
Supercritical fluids can be imagined as a gas in a liquid state,
which can occur under extreme pressures and temperatures. On
Earth, water can become a supercritical fluid inside some steam
Spitzer's new look at 55 Cancri e is consistent with
supercritical-fluid "waterworld" theory. The planet is likely a
rocky world covered with water in a supercritical fluid state
and topped off with a steam blanket.