Science

Hubble Turns To A “Super-Earth” Atmosphere For The First Time

In a recent look, the Hubble telescope has been tasked with analyzing the atmosphere of a the “super-Earth” planet 55 Cancri e for the first time.

Hubble Turns To A "Super-Earth" Atmosphere For The First Time

Interesting atmosphere but hot as hell on “Super-Earth”

The gas giant 55 cancri e has some similarities as that of Earth. However, this does not make the planet inhabitable, nor close. The planet’s “sun” or closest star means that surface temperatures well-upwards of 3,600 degrees Fahrenheit. However, like Earth, its atmosphere is largely made of hydrogen and helium.

Earth’s second atmosphere, which is also comprised of nitrogen, carbon dioxide, argon (among others) and most importantly oxygen as well, is the result of both volcanism and the existence of plant life in most scientists’ estimations.

Giant gas planets, hold on to hydrogen and helium considerably better than smaller planets whose gravity allows both H gases to leave.

“We did not expect 55 Cancri e to retain this much of its primordial gas atmosphere,” said Ingo Waldmann, a post-doctoral research assistant at University College London who participated in the research, in an e-mail to Discovery News.

So many tools and telescopes

“The WFC3 camera on Hubble is a very sensitive instrument, not initially designed to observe bright stars, and the instrument would overexpose like your cell-phone camera held towards the sun would,” Waldmann said. “In 2012, the scanning mode was introduced to address this. Essentially we now quickly move Hubble across the star and ‘smear’ the spectrum across the detector. This helps the overexposure issue, but makes the data analysis very difficult.”

It’s kind of fun to consider 40 light years close. My neighbor’s house is close but in an astronomical sense, apparently, 40 light years is close. With it’s star that I compared you our sun these distances are tough for astronomers. Given a larger distance between Hubble and the super-Earth, 55 Cancri e, which has a star that close, you’re going to get a “glare.” It’s quite difficult to discern where one’s corona and gas discharge and a planet’s own atmosphere begin at that “short” distance.

“If we can do this with Hubble, we are very confident that we can significantly improve with future instruments,” Waldmann said, reminding himself and other astronomers that the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) and PLAnetary Transits and Oscillations of stars (PLATO) telescope will soon become available if tasked to their work. “These next-generation facilities will blow the field of exoplanet spectroscopy wide open and allow insight that, to date, we cannot even imagine. In other words, we really are on the threshold of taking planetary science from our solar system into the galaxy.”

It’s a wonderful time to be both an astronomer and someone who enjoys a bit of space not populated solely with the fictional characters of science fiction and new Star Wars films. The tasking of a broken telescope has given the astronomical community and those that read their news much to think about.

Look at the last three years. You’ve got private space companies competing with governmental agencies to be groundbreaking as proven by the vertical landing of SpaceX’s first stage booster in Elon Musk’s insistence on reusable rockets, broken telescopes serving a purpose, comets being landed on by probes launched a decade ago and Einstein’s beliefs being reaffirmed with the physical discovery of his theorized gravitational waves.