NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope has gathered surprising new details about a supersized and superheated version of Earth called 55 Cancri e. According to Spitzer data, the exoplanet is less dense than previously thought, a finding which profoundly changes the portrait of this exotic world. Instead of a dense rock scorched dry by its sun, 55 Cancri e likely has water vapor and other gases steaming from its molten surface.
Spitzer measured the extraordinarily small amount of light 55 Cancri e blocked when the planet crossed in front of its star. These mini-eclipses, called transits, allow astronomers to accurately determine a planet’s size and calculate its density. Promisingly, the results show how astronomers can use Spitzer, operating in “warm” mode since depleting its liquid coolant in May 2009, to probe the properties of strange alien worlds….. Continue reading Spitzer Detects a Steaming Super-Earth Eclipsing Its Star