Breakthrough: Atmosphere Of “Diamond” Super-Earth Detected For First Time
Diamonds are a girl’s best friend, or at least that’s what the De Beers’ diamond monopoly would have girls believe… For the first time ever, astronomers at the University College London have detected the presence of Hydrogen and Helium gas in the atmosphere of a super-Earth; 55 Cancri e, a “diamond-like” super-Earth which is 8 times as big as our home, and suffers from sweltering 3,632 degree Fahrenheit summers.
Though the planet is (duh) uninhabitable by us hairless apes, astronomers believe that the discovery of a planet with an atmosphere is a positive development. For the past few years, astronomers have scoured the galaxy for inhabitable planets.
Located 40 light years away from Earth, 55 Cancri (or Janssen, as the International Astronomer Union has affectionately dubbed it) was first discovered by a team of Yale scientists in 2004- one of the first super-Earths to be found. It is also one of the first rocky planets to be found orbiting a sequence star similar to our own Sun.
“This is a very exciting result because it’s the first time that we have been able to find the spectral fingerprints that show the gases present in the atmosphere of a super-Earth,” says Angelos Tsiaras, a PhD student at UCL. “Our observations of 55 Cancri e’s atmosphere suggest that the planet has managed to cling on to a significant amount of hydrogen and helium from the nebula from which it formed.”
The planet’s close orbit to its parent star and immense 8 billion-year-old age have stunned astronomers, who believe that the atmosphere should have been lost a long time ago. Hydrogen cyanide was also detected in the atmosphere, indicating that the atmosphere is carbon-rich.
“If the presence of hydrogen cyanide and other molecules is confirmed in a few years time by the next generation of infrared telescopes, it would support the theory that this planet is indeed carbon rich and a very exotic place,” says Jonathan Tennyson, a professor at UCL. “Although, hydrogen cyanide or prussic acid is highly poisonous, so it is perhaps not a planet I would like to live on!”
Indeed, the planet would prove to be particularly inhospitable… unless, of course, you’re after the speculated gigantic diamond core.
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