Large Active Volcanoes Could Exist On Alien Planet [STUDY]

Data gathered over 2 years using NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope shows that the surface temperature of 55 Cancri e has undergone extreme changes. A team of researchers from the University of Cambridge have been studying the exoplanet, which is 40 light years away from Earth. 55 Cancri e is twice as large as Earth and 8 times as massive, writes Ian O’Neill for Discovery.

Large Active Volcanoes Could Exist On Alien Planet [STUDY]

Active volcanoes: Groundbreaking discovery

“This is the first time we’ve seen such drastic changes in light emitted from an exoplanet, which is particularly remarkable for a super-Earth,” said study co-author Nikku Madhusudhan, of Cambridge’s Institute of Astronomy. “No signature of thermal emissions or surface activity has ever been detected for any other super-Earth to date.”

A temperature swing of 1,000 to 2,700 degrees Celsius was detected on the “day-side” of the exoplanet, which could suggest that 55 Cancri e has a molten surface which is experiencing extreme volcanic eruptions. In our solar system, Jupiter’s moon Io is the only example of a celestial body which experiences extreme volcanic activity caused by tidal interactions with Jupiter, and the activity on 55 Cancri e is far more intense.

Previously held theory questioned by findings

The discovery of intense volcanic activity has thrown into doubt the previous model, which suggested that 55 Cancri e was a “diamond planet” full of hydrocarbons.

“When we first identified this planet, the measurements supported a carbon-rich model,” said Madhusudhan. “But now we’re finding that those measurements are changing in time. The planet could still be carbon rich, but now we’re not so sure — earlier studies of this planet have even suggested that it could be a water world. The present variability is something we’ve never seen anywhere else, so there’s no robust conventional explanation.”

Large telescopes, both operational and upcoming, will allow scientists to continue to monitor the conditions on exoplanets. A paper published in 2010 claimed that it would be a number of years before scientists gained the ability to image a mega-volcano eruption taking place on a nearby exoplanet, but this latest research into 55 Cancri e may provide a sneak peek at what we can expect to see.

About the Author

Brendan Byrne
While studying economics, Brendan found himself comfortably falling down the rabbit hole of restaurant work, ultimately opening a consulting business and working as a private wine buyer. On a whim, he moved to China, and in his first week following a triumphant pub quiz victory, he found himself bleeding on the floor based on his arrogance. The same man who put him there offered him a job lecturing for the University of Wales in various sister universities throughout the Middle Kingdom. While primarily lecturing in descriptive and comparative statistics, Brendan simultaneously earned an Msc in Banking and International Finance from the University of Wales-Bangor. He's presently doing something he hates, respecting French people. Well, two, his wife and her mother in the lovely town of Antigua, Guatemala. To contact Brendan or give him an exclusive, please contact him at