The James Webb Space Telescope plans to explore strange new rocky worlds in unprecedented detail: geological results will be obtained from 55 Cancri e and LHS 3844 b, two sizzling super-Earths located around 50 light-years distant from our planet.
two schemers rocky exoplanets with characteristics similar to Earth, but extremely hot and larger, they will be observed in detail by NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope, as part of the first stage of its scientific work.
According to a press release, the exoplanets 55 Cancri e and LHS 3844 b can reveal the main characteristics of the so-called “super lands”: With current telescopes, its low brightness makes it extremely difficult to observe, but the Webb telescope will be able to overcome these limitations thanks to the new technologies it applies.
Super-Earths and life in the Universe
The study of super-Earths is crucial, not only because they can provide vital data about the very formation of our planet and its place in the cosmos, but also because some of these worlds may be prime candidates for harbor some form of extraterrestrial life.
Doesn’t seem to be the case 55 Cancri e Y LHS 3844bwhich are located about 50 light years away from Earth: the proximity to their stars, their high temperatures and other conditions make the emergence of life very complex, at least in the way we know it.
To briefly approach the general characteristics of super-earths, we can imagine that our blue planet has twice its size, temperatures capable of melting the rocks on its surface and that one of its hemispheres lives in an eternal night, while the other endures a day as hot as it is endless: those are some of the conditions that these extrasolar worlds would have.
A rocky world covered in lava
Regarding the examples that the Webb telescope will study, 55 Cancri e it is characterized by being covered in lava, and orbits its host star about 2.4 million kilometers away, about only four percent of the relative distance between Mercury and the Sun. It completes a full orbit to its star, defined as similar to the Sun, every 18 hours.
One of the most intriguing features of 55 Cancri e that astronomers will study is that this exoplanet might not be tidally locked, as all objects that orbit so close to their stars are supposed to be. Instead, you could have a day-night cycle and other Mercury-like features.
Specialists believe this could explain why the hottest part of the planet moves: As on Earth, the surface would take time to warm up. In this way, the hottest time of the day would be in the afternoon, not right at noon.
It is worth remembering, however, that these are much less friendly temperatures than those recorded on Earth: at 55 Cancri e, surface temperatures are well above melting point of typical rock-forming minerals.
no substantial atmosphere
For its part, LHS 3844b it also spins extremely close to its star, completing a full orbit in 11 hours. However, because its star is smaller and emits less heat, the exoplanet does not get hot enough for its surface to melt, as in the case of 55 Cancri e. According to previous observations, everything would indicate that LHS 3844 b does not have a substantial atmosphere: this is the aspect that most interests astronomers.
To conclude, the scientists indicated that the importance of these observations goes far beyond knowing the characteristics of only two of the more than 5,000 confirmed exoplanets in the galaxy. Rather, they will provide new insights into Earth-like planets in general, helping us understand what early earth might have been likewhen its characteristics were similar to those of these exoplanets today.