For the first time, astronomers describe the atmosphere of a super-Earth after getting a closer look at the alien planet with the aid of the Hubble Telescope. And, as expected, it’s very likely devoid of any life.
- Researchers turned the Hubble Telescope toward 55 Cancri e
- 55 Cancri e is 40 light years away from our solar system, discovered in 2004
- The exoplanet’s temperature reaches 3,630o Fahrenheit
- Astronomers found traces of helium and hydrogen, but no water
- Furthermore, they discovered hydrogen cyanide in its atmosphere, which is makes it a poisonous planet
Scientists from the European Space Agency (ESA) used the Hubble Telescope to get a closer look at 55 Cancri e, an exoplanet that is 40 light years away from our solar system. The planet has gained the name of “super-Earth” due to its incredible size that is much larger than Earth, but smaller than giants such as Jupiter, Neptune, or Saturn. In fact, 55 Cancri e is estimated to be 8.6 times larger than our planet.
It was first discovered in 2004, and it’s considered to be an exotic place in pretty much every sense of the world. The alien planet completes an orbit in just 18 hours, and it’s extremely close to its host star. That drives its temperatures to around 3,630o Fahrenheit (2,000o Celsius), so it’s not precisely the best vacation spot. However, researchers discovered some interesting new facts about the mysterious planet. The harsh conditions indicate that there’s hardly a chance it would host life as we know it.
According to Giovanna Tinetti from the University College London (UCL), they now have clues of what the planet is like and how it might’ve formed or evolved through the billions of years. Their findings could not only have important implications for 55 Cancri e, but for other super-Earths as well. And there are many of them. The scientists stated that super-Earths are the most commonly encountered worlds in the galaxy.
While there was no presence of water vapors, astronomers found high amounts of hydrogen and helium. Lead author of the study, Dr. Angelos Tsiaras, stated that this implies the exoplanet managed to cling to the compounds from the nebula it originated from.
They found that the atmosphere of 55 Cancri e contains incredible amounts of hydrogen cyanide, which is a deadly poison. That has likely been boiled by its close host star, and the resulting clouds would kill a human in less than a minute of exposure. That indicates a carbon-rich air, which might just confirm their initial estimations about the exoplanet’s composition. Due to its massive mass and radius, scientists estimated that 55 Cancri e’s interior is rich in carbon. That means that the planet’s inner composition could be made entirely out of diamond that is bigger than Earth.
It would require billions of years to form, and incredible heat and pressure. That is highly possible for 55 Cancri e.
The presence of hydrogen cyanide could confirm that the exoplanet is indeed made out of diamond. According to Jonathan Tennyson, this will support the theory that the planet is “carbon rich and a very exotic place”. Not to mention the fact that it’s blazing hot and covered with poisonous clouds.
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