Photo credit: ESA/Hubble/M Kornmesser
By Jonathan Webb
They found evidence for hydrogen and helium in its atmosphere, but no water.
Called 55 Cancri e, the world is twice the size of Earth and eight times the mass – but orbits unusually close to its host star, with an 18-hour year and surface temperatures above 2,000C.
The UK team published their findings in the Astrophysical Journal.
“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,” said Angelos Tsiaras, a PhD student at University College London and the first author of the paper.
“Our analysis of 55 Cancri e’s atmosphere suggests that the planet has managed to cling on to a significant amount of hydrogen and helium from the nebula from which it formed.”
Astronomers believe super-Earths are the most abundant planets in our galaxy. The term describes any world heavier than Earth but not as massive as gas giants like Saturn and Jupiter.
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