Feeds

NASA spots the light of a ‘super-Earth’

Spitzer space ‘scope serves up surprise

Intelligent flash storage arrays

While NASA’s Kepler mission has turned up plenty of evidence for planets in distant solar systems, the light from stars makes it very difficult to ‘see’ them. Now, in what the space agency is trumpeting as an important first, the Spitzer Space Telescope has detected the light emanating from a super-Earth planet called 55 Cancri e.

Previous planets observed in visible spectrum have been gas giants, far larger than the new discovery.

NASA says the super-Earth – a planet heavier than Earth but probably lighter than Neptune – is visible in the infrared, with a star-facing hot side that’s estimated at more than 2,000 Kelvin. Locked by tides, the planet always faces the same side towards its star.

The planet’s high-speed orbit takes it around 55 Cancri in a fleet-footed 18 hours, while its mass is around eight times greater than Earth, packed into a volume around twice that of our home.

Just super: NASA impression of 55 Cancri e. NASA/JPL-Caltech

Prior work on 55 Cancri e had focused on watching the star’s visible light change when transited by the planet. NASA says the new study looked instead at the infrared: measuring the change in infrared when the planet was behind the star, compared to when it’s on “our side”, allowed the astronomers to calculate how much of that infrared is emitted by the planet.

When visible, the planet’s infrared is brighter than the star.

The agency believes the planet is probably a rocky core surrounded by water in a “supercritical” state “where it is both liquid and gas”, and “topped by a blanket of steam”.

"It could be very similar to Neptune, if you pulled Neptune in toward our sun and watched its atmosphere boil away," said Michaël Gillon of Université de Liège in Belgium, principal investigator of the research, in NASA’s statement.

At 41 light-years distant, 55 Cancri is practically our neighbor. NASA says the observation is “an important milestone towards being able to eventually perform a similar technique on smaller, potentially Earth-like planets.” ®

Providing a secure and efficient Helpdesk

More from The Register

next story
GRAV WAVE DRAMA: 'Big Bang echo' may have been grit on the scanner – boffins
Exit Planet Dust on faster-than-light expansion of universe
Mine Bitcoins with PENCIL and PAPER
Forget Sudoku, crunch SHA-256 algos
SpaceX Dragon cargo truck flies 3D printer to ISS: Clawdown in 3, 2...
Craft berths at space station with supplies, experiments, toys
NASA rover Curiosity drills HOLE in MARS 'GOLF COURSE'
Joins 'traffic light' and perfect stony sphere on the Red Planet
'This BITE MARK is a SMOKING GUN': Boffins probe ancient assault
Tooth embedded in thigh bone may tell who pulled the trigger
DOLPHINS SMELL MAGNETS – did we hear that right, boffins?
Xavier's School for Gifted Magnetotaceans
Big dinosaur wowed females with its ENORMOUS HOOTER
That's right, Doris, I've got biggest snout in the prehistoric world
Japanese volcano eruption reportedly leaves 31 people presumed dead
Hopes fade of finding survivors on Mount Ontake
That glass of water you just drank? It was OLDER than the SUN
One MEELLION years older. Some of it anyway
prev story

Whitepapers

A strategic approach to identity relationship management
ForgeRock commissioned Forrester to evaluate companies’ IAM practices and requirements when it comes to customer-facing scenarios versus employee-facing ones.
Storage capacity and performance optimization at Mizuno USA
Mizuno USA turn to Tegile storage technology to solve both their SAN and backup issues.
High Performance for All
While HPC is not new, it has traditionally been seen as a specialist area – is it now geared up to meet more mainstream requirements?
Beginner's guide to SSL certificates
De-mystify the technology involved and give you the information you need to make the best decision when considering your online security options.
Security for virtualized datacentres
Legacy security solutions are inefficient due to the architectural differences between physical and virtual environments.