This site uses cookies. By continuing to use this site you agree to our use of cookies. To find out more, see our Privacy and Cookies policy.
Skip to the content

Share this

Free weekly newswire

Sign up to receive all our latest news direct to your inbox.

Physics on film

100 Second Science Your scientific questions answered simply by specialists in less than 100 seconds.

Watch now

Bright Recruits

At all stages of your career – whether you're an undergraduate, graduate, researcher or industry professional – can help find the job for you.

Find your perfect job

Physics connect

Are you looking for a supplier? Physics Connect lists thousands of scientific companies, businesses, non-profit organizations, institutions and experts worldwide.

Start your search today


Exoplanet burning bright…

55 Cancri e

An artist’s impression of the 55 Cancri system, with 55 Cancri e nearly lost
in the glare of its star. (Courtesy: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

By Tushna Commissariat

Exoplanetary scientists will rejoice to hear that NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope has managed to detect and analyse the tiny amount of infrared light that comes directly from a super-Earth exoplanet for the first time. About a few dozen super-Earths – planets that are 2–10 times more massive than the Earth – have been officially detected and countless other possible candidates have been found.

The exoplanet in question – known as 55 Cancri e – belongs to the 55 Cancri star-system, which is a measly 41 light-years away from the Earth – a small distance by astronomical scales. Indeed, 55 Cancri is so bright and close that it can be seen with the naked eye on a clear, dark night. The system is known to have five planets, with 55 Cancri e being the closest to its parent star. The planet is about eight times more massive than the Earth, completes its orbit in a dizzying 18 h – the shortest orbit known for an exoplanet – and is tidally locked, so one side always faces the star.

Previous studies of the planet revealed that 55 Cancri e is an extreme exoplanet with a rocky core surrounded by a layer of water in a “supercritical” state – the water is heated to such a degree that it is somewhere in-between a liquid and a gas – and topped off by a blanket of steam. In the new study, Spitzer measured the amount of infrared light that comes from the planet itself by looking at the slight dip in total light intensity when the planet undergoes an occultation – that is, when it circles behind the face of its parent star. When viewed in infrared, the planet is brighter relative to its star as its scorching surface heat blazes in the infrared end of the spectrum. This information reveals the temperature of a planet and, in some cases, its atmospheric components. Most other current planet-hunting methods obtain indirect measurements of a planet by observing its effects on the star’s light. In this case, the data revealed that the star-facing side of the exoplanet is more than 2000 K – hot enough to melt metal.

“Spitzer has amazed us yet again,” says Bill Danchi, who works on the Spitzer programme in Washington, DC. “The spacecraft is pioneering the study of atmospheres of distant planets and paving the way for NASA’s upcoming James Webb Space Telescope to apply a similar technique to potentially habitable planets.”

This entry was posted in General. Bookmark the permalink.
View all posts by this author  | View this author's profile

Comments are closed.


  • Comments should be relevant to the article and not be used to promote your own work, products or services.
  • Please keep your comments brief (we recommend a maximum of 250 words).
  • We reserve the right to remove excessively long, inappropriate or offensive entries.

Show/hide formatting guidelines

Tag Description Example Output
<a> Hyperlink <a href="">google</a> google
<abbr> Abbreviation <abbr title="World Health Organisation" >WHO</abbr> WHO
<acronym> Acronym <acronym title="as soon as possible">ASAP</acronym> ASAP
<b> Bold <b>Some text</b> Some text
<blockquote> Quoted from another source <blockquote cite="">IOP</blockquote>
<cite> Cite <cite>Diagram 1</cite> Diagram 1
<del> Deleted text From this line<del datetime="2012-12-17"> this text was deleted</del> From this line this text was deleted
<em> Emphasized text In this line<em> this text was emphasised</em> In this line this text was emphasised
<i> Italic <i>Some text</i> Some text
<q> Quotation WWF goal is to build a future <q cite="">
where people live in harmony with nature and animals</q>
WWF goal is to build a future
where people live in harmony with nature and animals
<strike> Strike text <strike>Some text</strike> Some text
<strong> Stronger emphasis of text <strong>Some text</strong> Some text