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Lava or not, exoplanet 55 Cancri e likely to have atmosphere

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Owlscrying
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Unread post Sun Nov 19, 2017 8:11 pm

Twice as big as Earth, the super-Earth 55 Cancri e was thought to have lava flows on its surface. The planet is so close to its star, the same side of the planet always faces the star, such that the planet has permanent day and night sides. Based on a 2016 study using data from NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope, scientists speculated that lava would flow freely in lakes on the starlit side and become hardened on the face of perpetual darkness. The lava on the dayside would reflect radiation from the star, contributing to the overall observed temperature of the planet.

Now, a deeper analysis of the same Spitzer data finds this planet likely has an atmosphere whose ingredients could be similar to those of Earth's atmosphere, but thicker. Lava lakes directly exposed to space without an atmosphere would create local hot spots of high temperatures, so they are not the best explanation for the Spitzer observations, scientists said.

"If there is lava on this planet, it would need to cover the entire surface," said Renyu Hu, astronomer at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California, and co-author of a study published in The Astronomical Journal. "But the lava would be hidden from our view by the thick atmosphere."

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Owlscrying
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Unread post Sun Nov 19, 2017 8:12 pm

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Credit: Jet Propulsion Laboratory

The super-Earth exoplanet 55 Cancri e, depicted with its star in this artist's concept, likely has an atmosphere thicker than Earth's but with ingredients that could be similar to those of Earth's atmosphere.

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Owlscrying
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Unread post Sun Nov 19, 2017 8:15 pm



The international team, led by scientists from University College London (UCL) in the UK, took observations of the nearby exoplanet 55 Cancri e, a super-Earth with a mass of eight Earth-masses. It is located in the planetary system of 55 Cancri, a star about 40 light-years from Earth.

They acquired the name ‘super-Earth’ because they have a mass larger than that of the Earth but are still much smaller than the gas giants in the Solar System. The WFC3 instrument on Hubble has already been used to probe the atmospheres of two other super-Earths, but no spectral features were found in those previous studies. 55 Cancri e, however, is an unusual super-Earth as it orbits very close to its parent star.

 A year on the exoplanet lasts for only 18 hours and temperatures on the surface are thought to reach around 2000 degrees Celsius.

 
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