55 Cancri e: Webb telescope to get first glimpse of boiling lava-covered ‘Super Earth’

The James Webb Space Telescope is poised to perform extraordinary studies of hitherto unstudied planets. For the first time, scientists will see a distant “super-Earth” called 55 Cancri e, with a surface covered with constantly burning lava.

According to NASA, a “super-Earth” is “a planet unlike any other planet in our solar system.” 55 Cancri e is about 50 light-years from Earth and orbits a star less than 1.5 million miles away. For comparison, that’s 1/25 of the distance between our Sun and Mercury. Whereas Earth takes 365 days to orbit the Sun, 55 Cancri e orbits a star in 18 hours. The first observations of the planet are expected when the James Webb Space Telescope becomes operational this summer. The telescope is also intended to help scientists better understand LHS 3844 b, a distant planet with no atmosphere.

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The James Webb Space Telescope is the most powerful space telescope in the world. Its high-precision spectrometers will be trained on this celestial world to learn more about the geological diversity of galactic planets and the evolution of Earth-like rocky planets. Webb will find a distant world that orbits other stars beyond our solar system, and the mysterious structure and origin of our universe, and our place within it. Webb is a NASA-led multinational project with the European Space Agency (ESA) and the Canadian Space Agency as partners.

Super-Hot Super-Earth 55 Cancri e

Both 55 Cancri e and LHS 3844 b in size and mass are between Earth and Neptune, but are similar to Earth in composition (NASA.GOV).

About 55 Cancri e, NASA said, “It is thought that the Earth’s daytime is covered by a sea of ​​lava because the surface temperature is much higher than the melting point of typical rock-forming minerals.” “Imagine the Earth is much closer to the Sun,” the agency added.

Planets orbiting such a nearby star are thought to be tidally fixed with one side always facing the star. As a result, the hottest places on the planet should be those facing the stars most directly, and the amount of heat emitted during the day should remain relatively constant. But that doesn’t seem to be the case. Observations by NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope show that 55 Cancri e’s hottest part is offset from its star-gazing part, but the total amount of heat recorded during the day varies.



“It is so close that a year only takes a few hours. It was so close that gravity locked one hemisphere in permanent blazing broad daylight and the other in endless darkness,” the agency said. “It’s so close that the sea boils, the rocks start to melt, and the clouds rain lava.”

However, it is also possible that 55 Cancri e is not locked as an assistant. Instead, it could be equivalent to Mercury rotating three times per two orbits (3:2 resonance). As a result, the planet will have a cycle of day and night. “This could explain why the hottest part of the Earth is moving,” said Alexis Brandeker, a researcher at the University of Stockholm. “Like the Earth, it takes time for the surface to warm up. The hottest time of the day is probably the afternoon, not noon.” “In the evening, the steam cools and condenses to form lava droplets that rain back to the surface and harden again at night.”

A full rotation of the planet will be completed in 18 hours (NASA.GOV)

“[They] Heavier than Earth, but lighter than ice giants like Neptune and Uranus, it can be made from gas, rock, or a combination of the two. They are between twice the size of Earth and up to ten times the size of Earth,” says NASA’s website.

Another theory is that because planets rotate to create day and night, “during the day the surface will heat up, melt, and even evaporate, forming a very thin atmosphere that the web can detect.”

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