Hydrogen And Helium Gases Detected On Super-Earth, But No Water Vapor

Posted: Feb 19 2016, 5:14am CST | by , in News | Latest Science News

55 Cancri e
Photo credit: NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope

UCL researchers have successfully detected hydrogen and helium gases on the exoplanet 55 Cancri e which is considered a super-Earth, but no detected of water vapor in the atmosphere of the planet. The exoplanet is 8 times the mass of Earth with scientists thinking its interior might contain carbon-rich materials or diamonds.

In a study to be published in the Astrophysical Journal, the astronomers used new data supplied by the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope to analyze the finer details of 55 Cancri e.

"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, a PhD student at UCL who developed the analysis technique along with colleagues Dr Ingo Waldmann and Marco Rocchetto in UCL Physics & Astronomy.

"Our analysis of 55 Cancri e's atmosphere suggests that the planet has managed to cling on to a significant amount of hydrogen and helium from the nebula from which it formed," Tsiaras added.

Although smaller than gas giants within our Solar System, super-Earths have a mass larger than Earth and are considered to be the most common planetary type within our galaxy. Researchers have deployed the Wide Field Camera 3 (WFC3) aboard the Hubble Telescope to probe the surface of two other super-Earths without really finding any spectral features in them.

A year on 55 Cancri e lasts for 18 hours with its surface temperature thought to reach 2000 degrees Celsius. This planet is situated in a solar system around 55 Cancri, a star in the Cancer constellation that is about 40 light-years away from Earth.

Professor Giovanna Tinetti of UCL Physics & Astronomy disclosed that the results obtained by retrieving spectral fingerprints embedded within the starlight of 55 Cancri e provides insight into the atmosphere of the super-Earth. This information now provides scientists with clues on the features of the exoplanet, its formation and evolution, and the impacts of this planet on other super-Earths.

New data obtained by the astronomers indicated hydrogen cyanide might be present in the atmosphere of 55 Cancri e, a market for carbon-rich planets containing diamonds. "Such an amount of hydrogen cyanide would indicate an atmosphere with a very high ratio of carbon to oxygen," said Dr. Olivia Venot, KU Leuven, Belgium.

The research at UCL was funded by the Science and Technology Facilities Council and the ERC projects ExoLights and ExoMol.

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The Author

<a href="/latest_stories/all/all/52" rel="author">Charles I. Omedo</a>
Charles is covering the latest discoveries in science and health as well as new developments in technology. He is the Chief Editor or Intel-News.




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