Scientists using NASA’s infrared Spitzer Space Telescope have detected light for the first time emitting from a “super-earth,” called planet 55 Cancri e.
The Christian Science Monitor reports that planet 55 Cancri e was discovered in 2004. The planet is about twice the width of the earth but has about 8 times more mass. A year on the planet lasts just 18 hours and the super-planet is not habitable.
Spitzer program scientist Bill Danch of NASA headquarters said that the detection of light from the super-planet was an historic occasion.
“Spitzer has amazed us yet again. The spacecraft is pioneering the study of atmospheres of distant planets and paving the way for NASA’s upcoming James Webb Space Telescope to apply a similar technique on potentially habitable planets.”
Michael Werner, JPL Spitzer project scientist, also said that he was amazed by the telescopes abilities. Werner said:
“When we conceived of Spitzer more than 40 years ago, exoplanets hadn’t even been discovered. Because Spitzer was built very well, it’s been able to adapt to this new field and make historic advances such as this.”
CBC reports that planet 55 Cancri e orbits a star that is visible to the naked eye. The planet is 41 light years away and is one of about 70 super-earths that have been discovered. Spitzer’s measurements of the infrared light coming from the planet has led scientists to believe that the planet is a dark planet. It’s sun facing side is more than 3,000 degrees Fahrenheit. Planet 55 Cancri e is also believed to be a waterworld with a thick atmosphere of water vapor. The high temperatures on the surface may also turn the water into states of matter that don’t exist on earth, like superfluid water and hot ice.