Sunday, October 14, 2012

Carbon-Rich Planet Discovered Near Earth

Outer Space

An article in National Geographic says scientists have analysed data from NASA's Spitzer Space telescope and have created a computer model of a carbon-rich planet they have named 55 Cancri e, whose chemical make-up differs from ours (chiefly oxygen and silicates-based). The planet, in the constellation Cancer, orbits a star called 55 Canceri A and was originally discovered in  August 2004.

Andrew Fazekas writes:
Dubbed 55 Cancri e, the rocky world is only twice the size of Earth but has eight times its mass—classifying it as a "super Earth," a new study says. First detected crossing in front of its parent star in 2011, the close-in planet orbits its star in only 18 hours. As a result, surface temperatures reach an uninhabitable 3,900 degrees Fahrenheit (2,150 degrees Celsius)—which, along with carbon, make perfect conditions for creating diamonds.
NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope collected data on the planet's orbital distance and mass, and resulting computer models created a picture of 55 Cancri e's chemical makeup. "Science fiction has dreamed of diamond planets for many years, so it's amazing that we finally have evidence of its existence in the real universe," said study leader Nikku Madhusudhan, a postdoctoral researcher at Yale University.
"It's the first time we know of such an exotic planet that we think was born mostly of carbon—which really makes this a fundamental game-changer in our understanding of what's possible in planetary chemistry." At only 40 light-years away, in the northern constellation Cancer, the gemlike planet sits relatively near Earth. In dark skies, 55 Cancri e's host star is clearly visible to the naked eye. (See gem pictures.)
That a planet's composition might be one-third diamond has all kinds of implications, not the least of which is in the field of cosmology. Moreover, this discovery is interesting because it shows that different solar systems formed in different ways and from different materials than our own.

At 40 light-years distance (400 trillion kilometres, or 240 trillion miles), the planet is considered near enough ours to study; and its nearness increases overall scientific interest in the cosmological make-up of the universe, which although is still mysterious is becoming more known. One of the chief benefits is a better understanding of human origins, and what, if any, similarities we share with other non-earth species. If it sounds far out, it is.

You can read the rest of the article at [National Geographic]

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