Following the super Earth 55 Cancri e’s discovery in 2011, scientists speculated regarding the rocky world’s makeup. Was it an exoplanet comprised of diamonds, or what about a water world?
Current research suggests the exoplanet is a two-faced lava planet, with a rocky and molten side.
Recently, an international research team created a temperature map of the planet, and published their work in Nature.
Tidally locked, 55 Cancri e, which is twice the size and eight times the mass of Earth, orbits its parent star in only 18 hours. The researchers used data from NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope to collect temperature measurements on the exoplanet in infrared. The host star 55 Cancri is located around 40 light-years away in the Cancer constellation.
“On the day side, the temperature is around 2,500 C, while on the night side it’s about 1100 degrees—that’s a huge difference,” said study lead author Brice-Olivier Demory, and astronomer with the University of Cambridge, in a statement.
The lack of heat circulation led researchers to hypothesize that 55 Cancri e’s atmosphere doesn’t encompass the entire exoplanet.
“We think that there could still be an atmosphere on the night side, but temperatures on the day side are so extreme that the atmosphere may have evaporated completely, meaning that heat is not being efficiently transferred, or transferred at all from the day side to the night side,” Demory added in the statement.
Another theory is that the lava flows on the exoplanet’s day side circulate heat on the planet’s surface. The heat eventually dissipates as it spreads to the solid night side.
Additionally, the researchers believe the host star’s irradiation is not enough to cause its scorching temperatures. They suggested that a currently unknown heat source plays a part in the exoplanet’s temperature.
Characteristics of exoplanets like 55 Cancri e are difficult for astronomers to ascertain. Relatively small on the planetary scale, such exoplanets are often difficult to detect. However, the launch of the James Webb Space Telescope in 2018 will help astronomers glimpse these exoplanets with a new level of clarity.
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