HELL UNVEILED: First photos of 55 Cancri e could show lava-covered super-Earth in all its 4,417 °F glory!
The dayside of the planet 55 Cancri e is thought to be covered in oceans of lava
The James Webb Space Telescope is all set to conduct extraordinary research into hitherto unstudied planetary bodies. For the first time, scientists will get a view of a faraway "super-Earth" called 55 Cancri e with a lava-covered surface that is constantly burning and where surface temperatures can reach 4,417 °F (2,436 °C).
"Super-Earths" are "a class of planets unlike any in our solar system," according to NASA. 55 Cancri e is around 50 light-years away from Earth and orbits around a star that is less than 1.5 million miles away from it. For comparison, that's 1/25th the distance between our Sun and Mercury. While Earth takes 365 days to orbit the sun, 55 Cancri e revolves around its star in just 18 hours. The first observations of the planet are expected once the James Webb Space Telescope is operational this summer. The telescope is also intended to help scientists understand more about LHS 3844 b, a faraway planet with no atmosphere.
The James Webb Space Telescope is the world's most powerful space telescope. Its high-precision spectrographs will be trained on these celestial worlds to learn more about the geologic diversity of planets across the galaxy, as well as the evolution of rocky planets like Earth. Webb will search beyond our solar system to distant worlds orbiting other stars, as well as the mystery architecture and origins of our universe and our position in it. Webb is a NASA-led multinational project involving ESA (European Space Agency) and the Canadian Space Agency as partners.
Super-Hot Super-Earth 55 Cancri e
“With surface temperatures far above the melting point of typical rock-forming minerals, the dayside of the planet is thought to be covered in oceans of lava,” NASA said of 55 Cancri e. “Imagine if Earth were much, much closer to the Sun,” the agency added.
Planets that circle their star this close are thought to be tidally locked, with one side always facing the star. As a result, the hottest place on the planet should be the one that faces the star the most directly, and the quantity of heat emitted over the day should remain relatively constant. However, this does not appear to be the case. The hottest section of 55 Cancri e, according to observations from NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope, is offset from the part that faces the star most directly, whereas the overall amount of heat recorded from the dayside varies.
And while 55 Cancri e may be hellish to some with its blistering temperatures, silicates in the atmosphere mean its skies likely sparkle, reflecting lava below.— NASA Exoplanets (@NASAExoplanets) December 11, 2019
There is always a bright side. Literally – it's tidally locked. One side is always bright!
“So close that an entire year lasts only a few hours. So close that gravity has locked one hemisphere in permanent searing daylight and the other in endless darkness,” the agency stated. “So close that the oceans boil away, rocks begin to melt, and the clouds rain lava.”
However, there's also the chance that 55 Cancri e isn't tidally locked. Instead, it might be like Mercury, which rotates three times per two orbits (a 3:2 resonance). As a result, there would be a day-night cycle on the planet. “That could explain why the hottest part of the planet is shifted,” explained Alexis Brandeker, a researcher from Stockholm University. “Just like on Earth, it would take time for the surface to heat up. The hottest time of the day would be in the afternoon, not right at noon.” “In the evening, the vapor would cool and condense to form droplets of lava that would rain back to the surface, turning solid again as night falls.”
“[They] are more massive than Earth yet lighter than ice giants like Neptune and Uranus, and can be made of gas, rock or a combination of both. They are between twice the size of Earth and up to 10 times its mass,” NASA's website stated.
Another theory is that the planet rotates to create day and night, so its “surface would heat up, melt, and even vaporize during the day, forming a very thin atmosphere that Webb could detect,” the agency says.