Fri, May 11, 2012
Light from alien 'super-earth' seen for first time
By Tariq Malik
This artist's concept shows the super-Earth planet 55 Cancri e. It's a toasty world 41 light-years from Earth that rushes around its star every 18 hours.
Light from an alien "super-Earth" twice the size of our own Earth has been detected by a NASA space telescope for the first time in what astronomers are calling a historic achievement.
NASA's infrared Spitzer Space Telescope spotted light from the alien planet 55 Cancri e, which orbits a star 41 light-years from Earth. A year on the extrasolar planet lasts just 18 hours.
The planet 55 Cancri e was first discovered in 2004 and is not a habitable world. Instead, it is known as a super-Earth because of its size: The world is about twice the width of Earth and is super-dense, with about eight times the mass of Earth.
The new Spitzer observations revealed that the star-facing side of 55 Cancri e is extremely hot, with temperatures reaching up to 3,140 degrees Fahrenheit (1,726 degrees Celsius). The planet is likely a dark world that lacks the substantial atmosphere needed to warm its nighttime side, researchers said.
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