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Exoplanet 55 Cancri e has many names, but the rocky world located 40 light years from Earth is the best known for its reputation as a “hellish planet”.
This super-Earth, so named because it’s a rocky planet eight times more massive and twice as wide as Earth, is so hot it has an ocean of molten lava for a surface that reaches 3,600 degrees Fahrenheit. (1,982 degrees Celsius).
The interior of the exoplanet could also be full of diamonds.
The planet is hot enough to be compared to star wars lava world Mustafar, site of the battle between Anakin Skywalker and Obi-Wan Kenobi in “Revenge of the Sith”, and where Darth Vader later established his castle, Fortress Vader.
The planet, officially named Janssen but also called 55 Cancri e or 55 Cnc e, orbits its host star Copernicus so close that the sizzling world completes an orbit in less than an Earth day. A year for this planet lasts about 17.5 hours on Earth.
The incredibly tight orbit is why Janssen has such hot temperatures — so close that astronomers doubted a planet could exist while practically hugging a host star.
Astronomers have wondered if the planet has always been this close to its star.
A team of researchers used a new tool called EXPRES, or the EXtreme PREcision Spectrometer, to determine the precise nature of the planet’s orbit. Findings may help astronomers better understand how planets formed and how these celestial bodies evolved an orbit.
The instrument was developed at Yale University by a team led by astronomer Debra Fischer and installed on the Lowell Discovery Telescope at the Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, Arizona. The spectrometer was able to measure tiny changes in Copernicus starlight as Janssen moved between our planet and the star – such as when the moon blocks the sun during a solar eclipse.
The researchers determined that Janssen orbits along the star’s equator. But the infernal planet is not the only planet orbiting Copernicus. Four other planets on different orbital paths populate the star system.
Astronomers believe Janssen’s odd orbit suggests the planet initially started out in a cooler, more distant orbit before drifting closer to Copernicus. Then, the gravitational pull of the star’s equator altered Janssen’s orbit.
The journal Nature Astronomy published a study on Thursday detailing the findings.
“Astronomers expect this planet to have formed much farther away and then spiral into its current orbit,” Fischer, lead study author and Yale professor of astronomy Eugene Higgins, said in a statement. a statement. “This trip could have kicked the planet out of the star’s equatorial plane, but this result shows the planet is holding tight.”
Despite the fact that Janssen hasn’t always been this close to its star, astronomers have concluded that the exoplanet is still hot.
The planet “was likely so hot that nothing we know of could survive on the surface,” Lily Zhao, lead author of the study and researcher at the Center for Computational Astrophysics at the Flatiron Institute in New York, said in a statement.
Once Janssen approached Copernicus, the infernal planet got even hotter.
Our solar system is flat as a pancake, where all the planets orbit the sun on a flat plane because they all formed from the same disc of gas and dust that once swirled around our sun.
While astronomers have studied other planetary systems, they have found that many of them do not host planets orbiting on a flat plane, raising the question of how unique our solar system is in the universe.
This type of data could provide more insight into how planets and Earth-like environments may exist in the universe.
“We hope to find planetary systems similar to ours and better understand the systems we know,” Zhao said.
The main purpose of the EXPRES instrument is to locate Earth-like planets.
“Our accuracy with EXPRES today is more than 1,000 times better than what we had 25 years ago when I started working as a planet hunter,” Fischer said. “Improving the precision of measurements was the main goal of my career because it allows us to detect smaller planets when we are looking for Earth analogues.”