Scientists Examine Super-Earth Exoplanet's Atmosphere For The First Time

Posted: Feb 17 2016, 12:03am CST | by , in News | Latest Science News


Scientists Examine Super-Earth Exoplanet's Atmosphere for the First Time
Artist's impression of 55 Cancri e. Credit: NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope

Study suggest that the atmosphere of exoplanet is dry without an indication of water vapor but high levels of gases like hydrogen and helium have been detected for the first time

For the first time, scientists have peeked into the atmosphere of a super-Earth exoplanet.

Using Hubble Space Telescope’s observations and advanced analysis techniques, researchers from UCL have found that the atmosphere of exoplanet 55 Cancri e is completely dry and there is no sign of water vapors on it. 

However, researchers have managed to detect hydrogen and helium, which is the first evidence of the presence of gases in a super-Earth’s atmosphere.

“This is a very exciting result because it’s the first time that we have been able to find the spectral fingerprints that show the gases present in the atmosphere of a super-Earth,” said Angelos Tsiaras from University College London in England. “The observations of 55 Cancri e’s atmosphere suggest that the planet has managed to cling on to a significant amount of hydrogen and helium from the nebula from which it originally formed.”

55 Cancri e, also known as Jannsen, is an object some 40 light years away from the Earth. Its mass is around the mass of eight earths and its diameter is about twice that’s of Earth. A year on this exoplanet last just 14 hours and the temperature of its surface can reach extremely high levels, up to 2000 degrees Celsius.

The exoplanet is orbiting very close to its host stars, which makes it an interesting object for analyzing its atmosphere.  Researchers have analyzed the exoplanet as it was transiting in front of its host star. They used Wide Field Camera 3 (WFC3) to collect an array of entities like wavelength or frequencies. Then, processed these observations through newly developed analytic software and extracted some invaluable information about a super-Earth.

“The result gives first insight into the atmosphere of a super-Earth. We now have clues as to what the planet is currently like and how it might have formed and evolved, and this has important implications for 55 Cancri e and other super-Earths.” Giovanna Tinetti, one of the researchers involved in the study said.

Super Earths are the most common types of planet found in our solar system. They are called super-Earths’ because they have more mass than Earth but are smaller than other giant planets like Uranus and Neptune. The presence of hydrogen in the exoplanet hints on an atmosphere rich in carbon. 

“Such an amount of hydrogen cyanide would indicate an atmosphere with a high ratio of carbon to oxygen.” co researcher Olivia Venot said.

Researchers suggest that further investigations are required to confirm this finding. If so, the exoplant is very exotic and poisonous and is not suitable for hosting life.

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Hira Bashir covers daily affairs around the world.




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