For nearly twenty years, scientists have tracked puzzling signals from a massive planet known as 55 Cancri e.
The fiery “planet hell” — a so-called super-Earth about 40 light-years away — can reach temperatures of more than 4,400 degrees Fahrenheit on its dayside.
Soon, with the help of the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), researchers hope to fully decode those signals, and prove whether or not the planet is generating all of its atmosphere and shedding it under the intense heat of its parent star.
As the planet passed this star, Copernicus, scientists recorded eclipses and small halos of light from the Copernican star as this light passed through the hellish atmosphere of 55 Cancri e toward Earth.
A new theory about the evaporating and rejuvenating atmosphere of 55 Cancri e, published last September, was developed after revisiting records of those eclipses.
The researcher’s new prediction: a “thin and transient secondary atmosphere” on 55 Cancri e, an atmosphere that is constantly volatile due to its constant volcanic activity.
After 55 Cancri e was discovered in 2004, scientists decided it likely had volcanoes, flowing lava and high-speed winds carrying storms of “rain” rock.
Even on its cooler night side, temperatures at 55 Cancri e hover at the extreme heat of molten rock, which is about 2,060 F.
The planet is likely so hot, according to Lily Zhao of the Flatiron Institute’s Center for Computational Astrophysics in New York, “that nothing we know of would be able to survive on the surface.”
the New study He used visible and infrared light collected from three separate space telescopes to model the gaseous composition of this ever-changing atmosphere surrounding 55 Cancri e.
In essence, the hellish planet’s volcanoes are thought to regularly gush out hot gas, a process naturally called “outgassing,” which sweeps the entire planet into new layers of atmosphere.
But soon, like clockwork, the Sun’s harsh radiation and solar winds stripped 55 Cancri e of most of its new, superheated atmosphere.
But according to the author of the new study, an astrophysicist Kevin Heng From Ludwig Maximilian University in Germany, this new atmospheric change does not leave the entire planet a “bald rock,” as previous theories suggest.
“Despite this contrast,” Heng wrote, “the depth of its transitivity [the area of eclipsing planet to its eclipsed star] It remains fairly stable over time and is not compatible with opaque materials.’
In other words, even at its most “bald” state some atmosphere appears to still be present, but only visible via its infrared thermal signature.
Heng discovered evidence from three orbiting telescopes, including the Spitzer Space Telescope and the Cubes Space Telescope, indicating the possibility of a thin, constantly renewed “secondary atmosphere.”
“As the outgassing atmosphere escapes and regenerates, it quickly adapts to the radiative balance and temperature fluctuations cause the infrared eclipse depths to vary,” Heng wrote.
Heng’s research was accepted by the journal Astrophysical Journal Lettersbut not yet reviewed – he tested for the possible presence of various gases in the atmosphere of 55 Cancri e to help confirm his hypothesis.
It was found that carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide are more likely than methane.
“Atmospheres containing pure methane were excluded because they do not produce enough Rayleigh scattering,” Heng wrote.
Rayleigh scattering is the time-tested rules for how the atmosphere bends, dampens, and generally interacts with light, and is named after the 19th-century British physicist Lord Rayleigh, who first formulated the principle.
According to previous theories about the true hellworld, when there is no blanket of gas surrounding 55 Cancri e, the planet only emits infrared light.
These scientists had previously predicted that when an atmosphere was present, both fluctuating visible and infrared light would contribute to the transmitted signal.
But Henig’s theory focused on evidence of infrared light to explore a “proof-of-concept” mathematical model through which a thin amount of atmosphere might always remain.
Astrophysicists, including Heng, hope NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope will help them measure changes in infrared and visible light from the “hellish planet” as it passes between Copernicus at the center of its solar system and telescopes here, near Earth. .
The “hell planet” is so close to its host star that it completes each new orbit in less than 20 hours, which may also contribute to its unstable environment, but also means many transits and many eclipses from which to collect data.
“Forthcoming observations with the James Webb Space Telescope will likely allow measurements of atmospheric temperature and surface pressure, as well as surface temperature,” Heng wrote in his new paper.
“Web maven. Infuriatingly humble beer geek. Bacon fanatic. Typical creator. Music expert.”