Feeds

NASA spots the light of a ‘super-Earth’

Spitzer space ‘scope serves up surprise

5 things you didn’t know about cloud backup

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.” ®

Build a business case: developing custom apps

More from The Register

next story
Boffins ID freakish spine-smothered prehistoric critter: The CLAW gave it away
Bizarre-looking creature actually related to velvet worms
ANU boffins demo 'tractor beam' in water
The current state of the art, apparently
China to test recoverable moon orbiter
I'll have some rocks and a moon cheese pizza please, home delivery
NASA's rock'n'roll shock: ROLLING STONE FOUND ON MARS
No sign of Ziggy Stardust and his band
What does a flashmob of 1,024 robots look like? Just like this
Sorry, Harvard, did you say kilobots or KILLER BOTS?
Why your mum was WRONG about whiffy tattooed people
They're a future source of RENEWABLE ENERGY
Vulture 2 spaceplane autopilot brain surgery a total success
LOHAN slips into some sexy bespoke mission parameters
Another step forward for diamond-based quantum computers
Square cut or pear-shaped, these qubits don't lose their shape
LOHAN acquires aircraft arboreal avoidance algorithm acronyms
Is that an ARMADILLO in your PANTS or are you just pleased to see me?
prev story

Whitepapers

Endpoint data privacy in the cloud is easier than you think
Innovations in encryption and storage resolve issues of data privacy and key requirements for companies to look for in a solution.
Implementing global e-invoicing with guaranteed legal certainty
Explaining the role local tax compliance plays in successful supply chain management and e-business and how leading global brands are addressing this.
Top 8 considerations to enable and simplify mobility
In this whitepaper learn how to successfully add mobile capabilities simply and cost effectively.
Solving today's distributed Big Data backup challenges
Enable IT efficiency and allow a firm to access and reuse corporate information for competitive advantage, ultimately changing business outcomes.
Reg Reader Research: SaaS based Email and Office Productivity Tools
Read this Reg reader report which provides advice and guidance for SMBs towards the use of SaaS based email and Office productivity tools.