NASA to study lava-raining planet

The James Webb Telescope will soon be fully operational. Once NASA’s latest technology comes online, the space agency and its researchers will have another tool to discover the far reaches of space, including a distant planet raining lava. Just before the holiday weekend, NASA shared a blog post detailing some of the Webb Telescope’s early missions – additional research on Super-Hot Super-Earth 55 Cancri e.

You see, 55 Cancri e is almost twice the size of Earth and about half the size of Neptune. While our planet is about 93 million kilometers from the sun, 55 Cancri e is only 1.5 million kilometers from its Sun-like star.

In comparison, this distance is only one twenty-fifth of the distance between Mercury, the first planet of our solar system, and the sun. With an average temperature of 3,1000 degrees Fahrenheit, 55 Cancri e is a pretty hellish place. Due to the proximity of its star, the traditional rain cannot be found. No, on 55 Cancri e, it’s raining lava.

“Imagine if the Earth was much, much closer to the Sun. So close that an entire year lasts only a few hours. So close that gravity has locked one hemisphere in permanent scorching daylight and the other in darkness. so close that the oceans are boiling away, the rocks are starting to melt and the clouds are raining lava,” NASA said in its post.

The blog added: “Although nothing like it exists in our own solar system, planets like this – rocky, about the size of Earth, extremely hot and close to their stars – are not rare in the Milky Way galaxy.”

Various teams from NASA and research universities will use the new tools built into the Webb Telescope to retrieve more data about this planet. These same teams will also be researching another intriguing planet, simply titled LHS 3844 b. Since the second planet has no obscuring atmosphere, the teams will be able to study its surface by spectroscopy.

“It turns out that different rock types have different spectra,” added Laura Kreidberg of the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy. “You can see with your eyes that granite is lighter in color than basalt. There are similar differences in the infrared light emitted by rocks.”

Cover photo by NASA, ESA, CSA, Dani Player (STScI)

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