Astronomers have found a super-Earth with wildly changing temperatures.
The planet, named the diamond planet, is a rocky planet outside the solar system. Researchers believe that the temperature fluctuations on the ultra-hot super Earth could be due to huge amounts of volcanic activity, according to astronomers.
A team of researchers, led by the University of Cambridge, have observed a nearly threefold change in temperature over a two year period. They used NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope to observe thermal emissions coming from the planet, called 55 Cancri e, which is orbiting a sun-like star located 40 light years away in the Cancer constellation. The team observed temperatures on the hot ‘day’ side of the planet swinging between 1000 and 2700 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,” stated Dr. Nikku Madhusudhan of Cambridge’s Institute of Astronomy, who is a co-author on the study. “No signature of thermal emissions or surface activity has ever been detected for any other super Earth to date.”
Although the interpretations of the new data are still preliminary, the researchers believe the variability in temperature could be due to huge plumes of gas and dust which occasionally blanket the surface, which may be partially molten.
“The plumes could be caused by exceptionally high rates of volcanic activity, higher than what has been observed on Io, one of Jupiter’s moons and the most geologically active body in the solar system,” according to a statement by University of Cambridge.
55 Cancri e is a super Earth about twice the size and eight times the mass of Earth. It is one of five planets orbiting a sun-like star in the Cancer constellation. The planet is also tidally locked, which means there is a permanent ‘day’ side and a ‘night’ side.
The study was also co-authored by Professor Didier Queloz of the Cavendish Laboratory and Dr Michaël Gillon of the Université of Liège.
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