Scientists from Cambridge University have observed a volcanic planet that is so teeming with activity that it surrounds itself with ash and smoke. In many ways it looks the closest thing ever found to Tolkien’s fictional middle universe called Mordor.
The team were using the NASA Spitzer Space Telescope and recorded significant thermal emmisions coming drom planet 55 Cancri e. They managed to monitor the planet for a two year period and measure emission temperatures ranging from 1000 Degrees Centigrade to 2700 Degrees Centigrade.
Permanent day and night
Planet 55 Cancri e is a rocky exoplanet which is twice the size of earth and 8 times the mass. This super-earth exists in the constellation of Cancer, some 40 light years away. It orbits so close to its parent star that a year lasts just 18 hours. The planet doesn’t have days and nights as one side is permanently exposed to its star and the other permanently in the dark, which means it is tidally locked. Because of its relative proximity to earth compared to other rocky exoplanets, it provides the opportunity to make detailed observations of the surface and its atomosphere.
Researcher, Nikku Madhusudhan said, “this is the first time we’ve seen such drastic changes in light emitted from a exoplanet, which is particularly remarkable for an exoplanet, which is particularly remarkable foe a super Earth” and “no signature of thermal emissions or surface activity has ever been detected for any other super Earth.”
The research team think that such drastic changes in the thermal emissions is down to intense volcanic activity on the surface which is spitting out massive volumes of gas and dust which sometimes blankets the planet, making it resemble a great ball of ash.
Nikku Madhusudhan also said, “when we first identified this planet, the measurements supported a carbon-rich model”, “but now we’re finding that those measurements are changing over time. The most recent observations open up a new chapter in our ability to study the conditions on rocky exoplanets using both current and next-generation large telescopes”