New NASA Telescope To Offer Closer Look At Earth-Like Planet That Could Rain Lava
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Featured Image Credit: NASA
A new telescope is set to give NASA a closer look at a planet that has been likened to Earth – except it might rain lava.
The in-depth look at 55 Cancri e will begin after the telescope reveals its first observations this summer, having been trained to focus its high-precision spectrographs on the planet.
The classification of 55 Cancri e as a 'super-Earth' comes due to its size and rocky composition, but unlike our nice water-filled oceans, the day side of the planet is thought to be covered in oceans of lava.
In a release, NASA explains 55 Cancri e orbits less than 1.5 million miles from its Sun-like star and has surface temperatures much higher than the melting point of typical rock-forming minerals, leading to the assumption about its blistering oceans.
The proximity of the planet to its star would typically indicate that it is tidally locked, with one side facing the star at all times. However, previous observations of 5 Cancri e suggest this planet works differently, indicating the hottest region of the planet is offset from the part that faces the star most directly.
One possible reason for this is that the planet has a dynamic atmosphere that moves heat around.
The @NASAWebb telescope is almost ready to begin its science mission! There are 2 super-Earths in particular that #Webb will study in its 1st year of operations: 55 Cancri e and LHS 3844 b. Both are hot worlds, orbiting close to their stars: https://t.co/rvVucghj5c.— EarthSky (@earthskyscience) June 2, 2022
📸 NASA pic.twitter.com/ovsw2pZNRe
Renyu Hu, of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California, explains: "55 Cancri e could have a thick atmosphere dominated by oxygen or nitrogen. If it has an atmosphere, [Webb] has the sensitivity and wavelength range to detect it and determine what it is made of."
Another suggestion, however, is that 55 Cancri e is not tidally locked and instead may rotate three times for every two orbits, creating a day-night cycle.
lexis Brandeker, a researcher from Stockholm University, said this may explain why 'the hottest part of the planet is shifted', adding: "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.”
Cloudy with a chance of…lava rain?@NASAWebb is set to study two exoplanets known as “super-Earths,” so called because they’re rocky like Earth but larger than our home. One of the planets, 55 Cancri e, could have an atmosphere with rain of lava droplets.https://t.co/0DxEdz9yDK pic.twitter.com/9cULgYHqTg— NASA Goddard (@NASAGoddard) May 30, 2022
If the planet does go through this cycle, the lava-covered surface could heat up and vaporise every day before cooling and condensing in the evening. At this point, the vaporised liquid could form droplets of lava that would rain back to the surface.
The scenario certainly makes our own miserable drizzle seem more manageable, but we'll have to wait and see whether the Webb telescope can shed any more light on the possible bizarre events.
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