A distant super Earth named 55 Cancri e has been puzzling astronomers because of its extremely hot climate, likened by many to hell. The exoplanet is located about forty light years away from Earth, in the Cancer constellation.
55 Cancri e has 8 times the mass of our planet and is twice as bigger, revolving around the parent star at a very small distance which causes gravitational forces to change its orbit travel from one year to a mere eighteen hours.
Astronomers from all around the world took a close look at data collected by the Spitzer Space Telescope from NASA with infrared light sensors. In this way, they managed to calculate the temperatures of both hemispheres of the super Earth. To their surprise, they discovered a harrowing difference between them: it appears that one side has a hellish temperature of 4,000 degrees Fahrenheit while the other one barely reaches 2,060 degrees.
55 Cancri e’s tight orbit is to blame for the difference. Since both the super Earth and its sun are locked together by gravity, one side of the planet is always facing the star. The other one lies, naturally, in the shadow. However, what puzzles scientists is the fact that the Copernicus star does not have enough power to create the scorching lava world on 55 Cancri e.
According to astrophysicist Brice Olivier Demory from the University of Cambridge in England, it appears the planet experiences hot night and even warmer days. Demory is also the lead author of a study on 55 Cancri e. The results published in the Nature journal on March 30 point out that the planet does not efficiently transfer heat across its surface.
Demory and his team have worked around the idea that the super Earth might have no atmosphere at all, or only present it on one hemisphere. On our planet, the atmosphere is the one trapping heat which is further pushed around by winds in order to keep it at a normal level.
Since the hottest point on the exoplanet is not situated in the middle of the hellish hemisphere, scientists believe molten lava might be flowing forty degrees east to this place and thus heating it up. Co-author of the study Michael Gillon from the Liège University in Belgium has also suggested that the cold side might feature solidified lava flows similar to those in Hawaii. Since such lava cannot travel, this would explain the lower temperatures of the hemisphere.
55 Cancri e will be observed in more detail when the James Webb Space Telescope will be launched by NASA in 2018.
Image Source: Space.com