A Super-Earth’s Atmosphere Has Been Detected for the First Time, and It’s Hell!

For the first time astronomers have been able to analyze the atmosphere of an exoplanet in the class known as super-Earths, and it’s bone dry.

Using data gathered from the Hubble Space Telescope, and by using new analysis techniques, researchers were able to reveal that exoplanet 55 Cancri e has a dry atmosphere without any indications of water vapor. The results indicate that the atmosphere consists mainly of hydrogen and helium.

The international team, led by scientists from University College London (UCL) in the U.K., took observations of the nearby exoplanet 55 Cancri e. It is located in the planetary system of 55 Cancri, a star that is about 40 light-years from Earth.

The observations were made with the Wide Field Camera 3 (WFC3) on board the Hubble Space Telescope.This is a first in detection of gases in the atmosphere of a super-Earth. By exploiting a newly-developed processing technique, the team was able to examine the atmosphere of 55 Cancri e in detail, which revealed the presence of hydrogen and helium, but no water vapor.

Angelos Tsiaras, a PhD student at UCL, who developed the analysis technique along with his colleagues, Ingo Waldmann and Marco Rocchetto, explains:

According to Space Telescope:

Giovanna Tinetti, also from UCL, said:

Interestingly, however, the data also showed indications of the presence of hydrogen cyanide, which is a marker for carbon-rich atmospheres.

Olivia Venot, KU Leuven, who developed an atmospheric chemical model of 55 Cancri e that supported the analysis of the observations, said:

Jonathan Tennyson from UCL, concludes that:

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