Monday, May 14, 2012

NASA Telescope Sees the Light from an Alien Super- Earth’ 55 Cancri e

NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope has detected light emanating from a "super-Earth" past our solar system for the first time. While the planet is not habitable, the recognition is a notable step toward the greatest search for signs of life on other planets.

"Spitzer has astonished us yet again," said Bill Danchi, Spitzer program scientist at NASA head office in Washington. The planet, called 55 Cancri e, falls into a group of planets termed wonderful Earths, which are more enormous than our residence world but lighter than massive planets like Neptune.

The planet is about twice as large and eight times as huge as Earth. It orbits an intense star, called 55 Cancri, in a mere 18 hours.

Previously, Spitzer and other telescopes were able to learn the planet by analyzing how the glow from 55 Cancri distorted as the planet accepted in front of the star.

In the new study, Spitzer calculated how much infrared light comes from the planet itself. The 55 Cancri systems are comparatively close to Earth, at 41 light-years away. It has five planets, with 55 Cancri e the closest to the star and tidally protected, so one surface always faces the star.

Spitzer exposed the sun-facing surface is tremendously hot, indicating the planet probably does not have an extensive atmosphere to take the sun's warmth to the unlit side.

The telescope might be able to use a similar infrared technique to Spitzer to search extra potentially habitable planets for signs of molecules perhaps associated to life.


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