European astronomers have analyzed the existing gases on a super-Earth called 55 Cancri e, which is extremely close to its star and registers 3,600 Fahrenheit temperatures. It was discovered that the atmosphere of the planet is mostly composed of hydrogen and helium, like a gas giant. According to NASA, super-Earths like this are exotic.

55 Cancri e is a very interesting planet. It doubles the size of Earth and has eight times its mass. According to NASA, the super-Earth rushes around its star every 18 hours and has extremely hot temperatures. The new study that measured the gases of the unique planet was published in the Astrophysical Journal.

55 Cancri e doubles the size of Earth and has eight times its mass. Photo credit: Science at Nasa
55 Cancri e doubles the size of Earth and has eight times its mass. Photo credit: Science at Nasa

This is the first time that researchers were able to find the spectral fingerprints that provide information about which gases are present in the atmosphere of a super-Earth, said Angelos Tsiaras, PhD student at University College London (UCL) and paper’s first author, according to BBC.

“Our analysis of 55 Cancri e’s atmosphere suggests that the planet has managed to cling on to a significant amount of hydrogen and helium from the nebula from which is formed.” He added.

According to NASA, super-Earths, which can be made of gas, rock, or both combined, are unique and exotic when comparing them to other planets in the Solar System. It seems fascinating that they’re more massive than Earth but lighter than gas giants such as Neptune or Saturn.

New theories and processing techniques

The team of UCL researchers used new processing methods to analyze data from the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope. It appears that 55 Cancri e is located 40 light-years from Earth. Professor Giovanna Tinetti, who is a Physicist at UCL, said that the new findings can offer clues about the planet’s formation and evolution.

Now that they were able to solve overexposure issues of the WFC3 camera on Hubble to scan the planet, the team wants to significantly improve the development of future instruments for the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST)  and the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite, said Discovery News.

Ingo Waldmann, researcher at UCL, stressed that next-generation technologies will revolutionize the field of exoplanet spectroscopy. In the next years, Astronomers will start to use planetary science from our solar system, into the huge galaxy.

Results also seem to suggest that 55 Cancri e is carbon rich, as it has big amounts of hydrogen cyanide, which can be a great indicator of an atmosphere with a very high ratio of carbon to oxygen, said researchers from the study. A telescope like the JWST would be able to confirm those theories.

Super-Earths present a new field of research

Summer last year, NASA researchers were able to recognize the closest super-Earth exoplanet yet, which is only 21 light years away. The planet called HD 219134b was discovered thanks to NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope and it is 4.5 times more massive than Earth, said Extreme Tech.

In October 2018 the NASA will launch the JWST and it will probably direct the first investigations, towards super-Earths like 55 Cancri and the HD 2191334b.

“We now have clues as to what the planet is currently like, how it might have formed and evolved, and this has important implications for 55 Cancri e and other super-Earths,” said Professor Giovanna Tinetti (UCL Physics & Astronomy).

Source: BBC News