Observations from NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope have led to the first temperature map of a super-Earth planet, a rocky planet nearly two times as big as ours.
The map reveals extreme temperature swings from one side of the planet to the other, and hints that a possible reason for this is the presence of lava flows.
“Our view of this planet keeps evolving,” said Brice Olivier Demory of the University of Cambridge, England. “The latest findings tell us the planet has hot nights and significantly hotter days. This indicates the planet inefficiently transports heat around the planet. We propose this could be explained by an atmosphere that would exist only on the day side of the planet, or by lava flows at the planet surface.”
The toasty super-Earth 55 Cancri e is relatively close to Earth at 40 light-years away. It orbits close to its star, whipping around it every 18 hours. Because of the planet’s proximity to the star, it is tidally locked by gravity just as our Moon is to Earth. That means one side of 55 Cancri e, referred to as the day side, is always cooking under the intense heat of its star, while the night side remains in the dark and is much cooler.