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Astronomers discover "Super-Earth" with rocky surface and atmosphere

Photo : AP

In a breakthrough discovery, astronomers revealed on Wednesday the detection of a "super-Earth" with a rocky composition and an atmosphere. This distant world, named 55 Cancri e or Janssen, lies perilously close to its parent star and boasts a surface resembling molten rock, making it uninhabitable.

Located approximately 41 light-years away from Earth in the constellation Cancer, 55 Cancri e orbits its host star every 18 hours, experiencing scorching surface temperatures of about 3,140 degrees Fahrenheit (1,725 degrees Celsius). Despite its harsh conditions, this rocky exoplanet captured the attention of researchers due to the presence of a discernible atmosphere, as observed through infrared readings from the James Webb Space Telescope.

Lead author Renyu Hu of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory and Caltech explained that while the atmosphere is likely composed of carbon dioxide or carbon monoxide, it may also contain water vapor and sulfur dioxide. However, the exact composition and thickness of the atmosphere remain uncertain, leaving astronomers intrigued by this unusual finding.

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Given its extreme proximity to its star, 55 Cancri e is tidally locked, meaning one side is perpetually exposed to intense stellar radiation while the other remains in perpetual darkness. This extreme environment renders the planet inhospitable for life, as emphasized by co-author Brice-Olivier Demory of the University of Bern.

Despite its unsuitability for life as we know it, the discovery of an atmosphere on a rocky exoplanet represents a significant milestone in exoplanetary research. As scientists continue to probe the cosmos with advanced telescopes like the James Webb Space Telescope, they hope to uncover more insights into the diverse worlds that populate our galaxy.

While 55 Cancri e may not harbor life, its discovery underscores the vast diversity of planetary systems beyond our solar system and fuels optimism for future discoveries that could hold the potential for habitability.

May 9, 2024 5:17 p.m. 13674

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