Astronomical First As Ground Telescope Observes “Super-Earth”

A double-sized earth was recently found by astronomers in the Canary Islands from a distance of 40 light years.

Proving the existence of exoplanets has long been the domain of the space-based telescope, but all this changed with the discovery of an Earth-like planet from an island off the coast of Spain this week. The Nordic Optical Telescope in La Palma, one of the Canary Islands, observed the planet as it made its orbit around a star.

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The Double Earth-sized exoplanet was caught as it was crossing a star by The Nordic Optical Telescope in La Palma, one of the Canary Islands. This marks the first time when such a planet (“Super-Earth”) was detected by a telescope based on the ground. The planet, 55 Cancri e, was confirmed in 2004 by a space-based telescope. But, this week’s image capture marked the first time that an exoplanet has been seen from the earth due to issues with the Earth’s atmosphere.

New technologies

“It’s remarkable what we can do by pushing the limits of existing telescopes and instruments, despite the complications posed by the Earth’s own turbulent atmosphere,” said study co-author Ray Jayawardhana of York University. “Remote sensing across tens of light-years isn’t easy, but it can be done with the right technique and a bit of ingenuity.”

The study was led by Ernst de Mooij of Queen’s University Belfast, United Kingdom and utilized a 2.5-meter Nordic Optical Telescope in order to view the planet.

Super-Earth: Planet details

55 Cancri e orbits the star 55 Cancri about 40 light-years from earth and is 16,000 miles in diameter giving it a mass eight times that of the Earth. It is the innermost of five planets that orbit 55 Cancri and makes a full-orbit of its star roughly every 18 hours. For those who would immediately think about life on 55 Cancri e, don’t, the dayside of the planet reaches temperatures of over 3,100 degrees Fahrenheit.

While the planet dwarfs Earth, it is smaller than both Jupiter and Uranus by a fair measure. Roughly 2,000 exo-planets have now been discovered but that number is expected to grow significantly as further investigations are already planned.

“We expect these surveys to find so many nearby terrestrial worlds that space telescopes simply won’t be able to follow up on all of them. Future ground-based instrumentation will be key, and this study shows it can be done,” Mercedes Lopez-Morales, co-author of the paper and a researcher at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in a recent statement.