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Atmosphere of distant 'super-Earth' analyzed

Posted on Wednesday, 17 February, 2016 | Comment icon 14 comments

A planet's atmosphere is a goldmine of information. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech
For the first time scientists have been able to analyze the atmosphere of a 'super-Earth' exoplanet.
The breakthrough is particularly exciting because by measuring the atmospheric composition of a planet it is possible to determine what its conditions are like and whether or not it could support life.

The planet 55 Cancri e is twice the size of the Earth, weighs eight times as much and orbits its star so closely that a year passes within 18 hours and its surface temperature exceeds 2,000 degrees.

By applying a new analytical technique to data from the Hubble Space Telescope, the scientists were able to determine that its atmosphere contained hydrogen and helium but no signs of water.

"This is a very exciting result because it's the first time that we have been able to find the spectral fingerprints that show the gases present in the atmosphere of a super-Earth," said study author Angelos Tsiaras, a PhD student at University College London.

"Our analysis of 55 Cancri e's atmosphere suggests that the planet has managed to cling on to a significant amount of hydrogen and helium from the nebula from which it formed."

Source: BBC News | Comments (14)

Tags: Super-Earth, Extrasolar, Exoplanet

Recent comments on this story
Comment icon #5 Posted by BeastieRunner on 17 February, 2016, 16:24
What makes a planet a, "super Earth?"
Comment icon #6 Posted by paperdyer on 17 February, 2016, 17:35
Waspie - Even if the planet wasn't so close to its sun and had water, wouldn't the mass of the planet make the gravitational pull too much for humans?
Comment icon #7 Posted by Iron_Lotus on 17 February, 2016, 18:03
Firstly 40 light years is NOT very far away, in a galaxy which is somewhere between 100,000 and 180,000 light years across 40 ly is virtually next door. Secondly it needs to pass between us and it's star in order for the atmosphere to be detected by this method. This does not happen with all exoplanets and has nothing to do with it's distance from us. well, it is pretty far away
Comment icon #8 Posted by WoIverine on 17 February, 2016, 21:12
Damn, well...guess they need to move on to the next one.
Comment icon #9 Posted by JesseCuster on 18 February, 2016, 5:29
Relatively speaking... Considering the closest candidates are 4 lightyears away, yes it is a bit of distance. A lot further than we can hope to travel with conventional methods if it was found to be hospitable . I was merely pointing out that we would be wise to focus investigations on those more within our reach. 1. You either didn't read or understand Waspie's point. The method used to determine the chemistry of the atmosphere of this planet requires that it pass directly between us and its parent star. This only happens with certain exoplanets and therefore cannot be used to try and determi... [More]
Comment icon #10 Posted by JesseCuster on 18 February, 2016, 5:33
What makes a planet a, "super Earth?" As far as I know it refers to a planet whose size is between that of Earth and that of the solar system's ice giants Neptune and Uranus.Given some of the comments above in this thread it should be made clear that it does not imply that the chemistry, geology, atmosphere, temperature, etc. is anything like that of Earth's or that it is potentially habitable.
Comment icon #11 Posted by Calibeliever on 18 February, 2016, 14:07
What makes a planet a, "super Earth?" It's a fairly nebulous term that's been thrown about since the discovery of the first planets outside our solar system. Pretty much what Jesse said, but in the last few years it seems to be getting narrowed some to mean rocky, with an atmosphere.
Comment icon #12 Posted by BeastieRunner on 18 February, 2016, 18:01
Fantastic, thanks Jesse effin' Custer and Calibeliever. The stuff I looked up online was less than helpful. What you guys said made sense and was succinct.
Comment icon #13 Posted by TripGun on 19 February, 2016, 18:30
Super Venus, not Earth...
Comment icon #14 Posted by toast on 19 February, 2016, 19:53
What makes a planet a, "super Earth?" A super-Earth is a planet that is close to Earth's size and mass, but not so big that its surface is surrounded by a gas envelope like a small version of Uranus.

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