A discovery that marks an exciting next step in the search for worlds like our own NASA astronomers have detected light from a “super-Earth” planet that lies beyond our solar system.
NASA's infrared Spitzer Space Telescope spotted light from the alien planet 55 Cancri e.
According to researchers, it is the first time direct light from a rocky super-Earth planet has been seen.
“Spitzer has amazed us yet again,” Bill Danchi, Spitzer program scientist at NASA Headquarters in Washington said in a press release.
“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.”
The latest spectral analysis shows that the planet is a “water world”, composed of a rocky core that’s surrounded by water oozing supercritical fluids. In other words the water is in both liquid and gas forms and is capped with a blanket of steam.
Characteristics of 55 Cancri e
The planet 55 Cancri e is an old-school exoplanetary discovery and was first identified in 2004.
Over the course of eight years, several characteristics of the planet have been learnt. The planet 55 Cancri e is part of an alien solar system that contains five planets, all orbiting the star 55 Cancri in the direction of the constellation Cancer.
The extrasolar planet orbits its parent star located 41 light-years away from us and one year on 55 Cancri e lasts a mere 18 Earth minutes.
Using data from NASA's Spitzer space telescope, atmospheric scientists have determined that its radius is about twice of our planet and55 Cancri e is a super dense with a mass about eight times that of Earth’s.
According to astronomers55 Cancri e is not a habitable world as it is 26 times closer to its star (55 Cancri) than is Mercury to our Sun, which makes its day time temperature a scorching 3000 °F (over 1700 °C).
Latest spectral analysis
The exoplanet 55 Cancri e was initially thought to be a dry, rocky world.
However, the latest spectral analysis shows that the planet is a “water world”, composed of a rocky core that’s surrounded by water oozing supercritical fluids. In other words the water is in both liquid and gas forms and is capped with a blanket of steam.
"It could be very similar to Neptune, if you pulled Neptune in toward our sun and watched its atmosphere boil away," said the study's principal investigator Michaël Gillon of Université de Liège in Belgium.
The details of the research are published in the Astrophysical Journal.