Friday, May 11, 2012

A Super Discovery, 05.11.12

NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope has made another monumental discovery: a “super-Earth.”
Twice as big as Earth, the super-Earth is, for now, called 55 Cancri e, and is situated in the constellation Cancer, about 41 light years away. For the first time, scientists were able to actually measure the light emanating (reflected) from the planet itself, instead of measuring how much light it blocks as it transits in front of its star. Because of the low measure­ments that were taken, scientists guess that the planet is probably very dark most of the time. It appears to be tidally locked, though (one side is stuck facing its star), and that side appears to have temperatures in excess of 3,000 Fahrenheit. Just so we’re clear on how hot that is, most kinds of metal will be liquid at that temperature.
Based on their observations, scientists are saying the planet most likely has a rocky core and is covered with water. Be­cause of the extreme heat on the sunny side, however, the water is probably in a “supercritical” state, where it exists as both liquid and gas. NASA claims the atmosphere is covered with steam. Regardless, the atmosphere appears to be very thin, as it is doing such a poor job of blocking its sun’s heat.
Based on all observations made at this point, the planet cannot support life.
Read more from NASA.

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