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Scorching Hot Exoplanet Makes Scientists Scratch Heads

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An international team of astronomers has managed to compile the first temperature map of 55 Cancri e, a rocky ‘super-Earth’ exoplanet thought to have twice the diameter of Earth, according to NASA.

The first thermal map of the exoplanet 55 Cancri e has been compiled by researchers using NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope; the map reveals extreme temperature swings from one side of the planet to the other, something that may be attributable to lava flows, NASA reported.

The exoplanet was the first super-Earth to be discovered; the term refers to exoplanets (planets discovered outside our solar system) which are larger than Earth but smaller than gas giants such as Neptune and Uranus.

Referring to the 55 Cancri e, Brice Olivier Demory of the University of Cambridge lead author of a report published by the journal Nature, said that “our view of this planet keeps evolving.”

“The latest findings tell us the planet has hot nights and significantly hotter days. This indicates the planet inefficiently transports heat around the planet,” he said.

He added that “could be explained by an atmosphere that would exist only on the day side of the planet, or by lava flows at the planet surface.”

The thermal map reveals a dramatic temperature difference of 2,340 degrees Fahrenheit (1,027 Celsius) from one side of the planet to the other.

The hottest side is nearly 4,400 degrees Fahrenheit (2,427 Celsius), and the coolest is 2,060 degrees Fahrenheit (1,127 Celsius), according to NASA.

The findings baffled the researchers, given that atmospheres tend to take the heat from the day side and spread it around to the dark side, NASA said, adding that the research suggests that 55 Cancri could be devoid of a massive atmosphere as such.

Discovered in 2004, 55 Cancri e is about 40 light-years away from Earth and is thought to be eight times as massive.


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