NASA will soon explore a ‘super-Earth’ planet covered in oceans of lava.
The US space agency said last week that the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) is only weeks away from being fully operational, and one of its first missions is to explore a hot exoplanet called 55 Cancri E.
55 Cancri e, also known as Janssen, is located only 50 light-years from Earth.
It orbits so close to its sun-like star Copernicus (only 1.5 million miles away) that its scorched surface literally resembles the biblical description of hell.
“The molten surface is completely uninhabitable,” NASA said in a statement.
“With surface temperatures well above the melting point of typical rock-forming minerals, the everyday side of the planet is thought to be covered in oceans of lava.”
NASA added that an entire year in Janssen lasts only a few hours, and one hemisphere may be in permanently glowing daylight while the other is in endless darkness.
It’s so close to the sun – about 25 the distance between Mercury and the sun – that “the oceans are boiling, rocks starting to melt, and lava clouds falling.”
Since there is no such thing as 55 Cancri e in our solar system, scientists are naturally looking for more insight into the planet.
One of the things the researchers hope to discover is whether the exoplanet is “tidal closed,” meaning that one side is always facing the star.
Early observations from NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope show that Janssen’s hottest point is not directly opposite its star, which researchers say is strange.
One proposed theory, however, is that the planet “has a dynamic atmosphere that displaces heat,” says NASA.
“This may explain why the hotter part of the planet is turning,” explains Alexis Brandecker, a researcher from Stockholm University who is leading another team studying the planet.
“Just like on Earth, it will take some time for the surface to heat up. The hottest time of the day will be noon, not exactly noon.”
This moves to another area of interest to scientists, which is figuring out whether the planet has a dense atmosphere dominated by oxygen or nitrogen.
“If there is an atmosphere, [Webb] “It has the sensitivity and wavelength range of detection and identification of its components,” said Renew Ho of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California.
JWST will spend its entire first year studying 55 Cancri e and a second planet called LHS 3844 b for a better understanding.
Evolution of rocky planets like Earth. “
Super-Earths are a class of exoplanets with masses greater than that of Earth, but much less than that of Uranus and Neptune, which are 14.5 and 17 times the mass of Earth, respectively.
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