Astronomers analysed the atmosphere of ‘super-Earth’ exoplanet for the first time, with the help of the Hubble Space Telescope.
The extrasolar planet (or exoplanet), called 55 Cancri e is located about forty light years from Earth. Based on the analysis, 55 Cancri e has an atmosphere made of helium and hydrogen gases; however, no signs of water vapour were found, according to the scientists.
Giovanna Tinetti, one of the study authors and a professor of astrophysics in the Department of Physics and Astronomy at the University College London, said that this study gives the first insight into the atmosphere of the ‘super-Earth’ exoplanet. She and her colleagues now have clues as to what 55 Cancri e is currently like, and as to how the extrasolar planet might have evolved, Tinetti added.
Super-Earths are extrasolar planets with a mass higher than that of Earth, but lower than the mass of our Solar System’s gas giants. In our galaxy – the Milky Way – this class of planet is thought to be the most common.
With the Wide Field Camera 3, aboard the Hubble Space Telescope (HTS), scientists managed to also find hydrogen cyanide in the super-Earth’s atmosphere. Hydrogen cyanide, sometimes called prussic acid, is a marker for atmospheres that are rich in carbon. (note: The Hubble Space Telescope (HTS) was built by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) with contributions from the European Space Agency (ESA) and it is currently operated by Space Telescope Science Institute (STSCI))
Dr. Olivia Venot, of the Katholieke Universiteit Leuven (KU Leuven) in Belgium who is also an author of the study, said that the amount of hydrogen cyanide that is present in the atmosphere of 55 Cancri e could indicate an extremely high ratio of carbon to oxygen.
Based on the radius and mass of 55 Cancri e, some researchers have suggested that the exoplanet’s interior is rich in carbon.
This super-Earth may not be the most inviting planet, according to the scientists. The extrasolar planet orbit very close to the Sun-like star called 55 Cancri A. Because it is so close, the surface temperatures reach to about 2000 degrees Celsius (3632 degrees Fahrenheit) on a regular; one solar year also lasts only 18 hours.
Jonathan Tennyson, a professor of physics at the University College London and a member of the team who conducted the new study, said that hydrogen cyanide is highly poisonous; another reason why 55 Cancri e is not exactly habitable.
Image Source: ucl