With its mirror parts aligned adequately with its adjustable scientific equipment, NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope is just a few weeks away from being fully functional. Shortly after the first sighting of the show this summer, Webb’s deep science will begin.
Among the first year-long research is the study of two thermal exoplanets classified as “super-Earths” by their size and rock formation: lava-covered 55 Cancri e and airless LHS 3844 b. Researchers will train Webb’s high-resolution spectrograph on these planets to understand the geologic diversity of worlds throughout the galaxy and the emergence of rocky planets such as the Earth.
Super-Hot Super-Earth 55 Cancri e
The 55 Cancri e travels less than 1.5 million miles from its Sun-like star (one-fifth of the distance between Mercury and the Sun), completing one region in less than 18 hours. Since temperatures are much higher than the melting point of average mineral deposits, the planet’s sunny side is thought to be covered by a muddy sea.
The planets orbiting this near their star are thought to be well locked, with one side facing the lead at all times. As a result, the hottest part of the Earth should be facing the star directly, and the temperature from the Sun’s surface should not change much over time.
But this does not seem to be the case. A 55 Cancri e observation from NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope suggests that the hottest part is removed from the star-facing position, while the total amount of heat obtained on the side of the Sun varies.
Is the 55 Cancri in the Dark Atmosphere?
One explanation for this is that the planet has a volatile atmosphere that causes heat to evaporate. “55 Cancri e can contain high oxygen content of nitrogen,” explains Renyu Hu of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California, who leads a team that will use Webb’s Near-Infrared Camera (NIRCam) and Mid-Infrared Instrument (MIRI). ) to capture the spectrum of the solar eclipse spectrum. “When it has space, [Webb] has sensitivity and wavelength to detect it and determine what it is made of,” added Hu.
Or is it raining tonight at 55 Cancri e?
Another exciting possibility, however, is that the 55 Cancri e is not locked correctly. Instead, it may be similar to Mercury, circling three times on both lines (as 3: 2 resonance). As a result, the planet would have a night-to-day cycle.
“That would explain why part of the hot planet is constantly evolving,” explains Alexis Brandeker, a researcher at Stockholm University who leads another planetary research team. “Like Earth, it would take time for the surface to heat up. The hottest time of the day would be afternoon, not daylight.”
The Brandeker team plans to test this hypothesis using the NIRCam to measure the emissions from the bright side of 55 Cancri e between four different lines. If the planet has a 3: 2 resonance, it will look at each hemisphere twice and should be able to detect any differences between the hemispheres.
In this case, the surface can be hot, melted, and evaporated during the day, forming the minor air that Webb can see. In the evening, the steam cools down and condenses to form droplets that return to the surface and solidify as night falls.
Somehow Cooler Super-Earth LHS 3844 b
While 55 Cancri e will provide insight into the geology of the Earth covered with mud, the LHS 3844 b offers a unique opportunity to analyze solid rock in the exoplanet space.
Like the 55 Cancri e, the LHS 3844 b orbits very close to its star, completing a single turn in 11 hours. However, because its star is small and relaxed, the planet is not hot enough to melt. Spitzer’s observations show that the Earth is far less likely to have a large universe.