A new study reports that, recently, temperatures on a nearby “Hellish Super Earth” suggest that various large and super active volcanoes may exist on the alien world’s surface.
Researchers, Cambridge’s Brice-Olivier Demory and colleagues, used the NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope and found that temperatures on 55 Cancri e — a planet that is twice the size of Earth and eight times its mass that lies 40 light-years away — swung between about 1,832 to 4,892 degees Fahrenheit (1,000 to 2,700 degrees Celsius) over the course of just 2 years. On the hot “day” side of the planet, the temperature swings between 1,000 and 2,700 degrees Celsius.
This is the first time we’ve seen such drastic changes in light emitted from an exoplanet, which is particularly remarkable for a super Earth. No signature of thermal emissions or surface activity has ever been detected for any other super Earth to date,” study co-author Nikku Madhusudhan, of the University of Cambridge’s Institute of Astronomy in England, said in a statement.
The causes of these turbulent temperature changes are still being investigated, though the team suspects the massive amount of volcanic activity on the surface, which (may be) were partially molten.
While we can’t be entirely sure, we think a likely explanation for this variability is large-scale surface activity, possibly volcanism, on the surface is spewing out massive volumes of gas and dust, which sometimes blanket the thermal emission from the planet so it is not seen from Earth,” explained Demory. (The rates of volcanic activity may even be higher than Jupiter’s Io.)
Previous observations of 55 Cancri e indicated a high abundance of carbon, suggesting that the planet was composed of diamond.
The planet could still be carbon-rich, but now we’re not so sure. Earlier studies of this planet have even suggested that it could be a water world. The present variability [in temperature] is something we’ve never seen anywhere else, so there’s no robust conventional explanation,” he added.
But that’s the fun in science — clues can come from unexpected quarters. The present observations open a new chapter in our ability to study the conditions on rocky exoplanets using current and upcoming large telescopes.”