NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope Detects Light from Alien Super-Earth

| by Alex Groberman

Back in 2004, scientists discovered the alien planet 55 Cancri e – an uninhabitable world that orbits a star 41 light-years away from Earth. Because of its massive size (twice the width of Earth, half the mass of Neptune), it was quickly dubbed a Super-Earth. Aside from the fact that a day on the planet lasts a mere 18 hours and that it takes 2.8 days for it to orbit around the sun-like star 55 Cancri A, though, relatively little was actually known about the Super-Earth up to this point.

On Tuesday, NASA announced a huge breakthrough achievement. Thanks to the Spitzer Space Telescope, researchers were able to detect the infrared light that was being emitted from 55 Cancri e.

"Spitzer has amazed us yet again," wrote Spitzer program scientist Bill Danch of NASA headquarters in Washington in a statement (via Yahoo). "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."

Ever since it was initially discovered, astronomers have noted a number of interesting features pertaining 55 Cancri e. Beginning with its ridiculous density and ending with its unusually close orbit to its parent star, everything about this world has made it fascinating to study.

However, because of how relatively little information has actually been made available up to this point, it should come as no surprise that this week’s findings have provided a little extra depth to what we thought we knew.


(via Zeit News)

Prior to these most recent developments it was thought that one-fifth of 55 Cancri e was comprised of lighter, water-like elements. Now, researchers can say with relative certainty that the ultra-high temperatures on the world (up to 3,140 degrees Fahrenheit) mean that it likely possesses supercritical fluids or, in more basic terms, gas in liquid states.

"It could be very similar to Neptune, if you pulled Neptune in toward our sun and watched its atmosphere boil away," said the study's principal investigator Michaël Gillon of Université de Liège in Belgium (via Yahoo).

It’s probably safe to say that like kids on Christmas morning, scientists will continue to excitedly comb over all these recent developments with care. And because of that, more information on 55 Cancri e, its properties and its core features is likely forthcoming.