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           May 12, 2012

 

 

Light from 'Super Earth' recorded in Historic Event

55 Cancri e is twice the size of our home planet

In 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 sun.

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, researchers said.

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 Crab).

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 engines.

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

 
 

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