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The exoplanet 55 Cancri e has several names, however The rocky world located 40 light years from Earth is the most famous for its reputation as “Hell Planet”.
This super-Earth, so named because it is a rocky planet eight times more massive than Earth, twice the width of Earth, and is so hot that it has an ocean of molten lava for a surface of up to 3,600 degrees Fahrenheit (1,982 degrees Celsius).
The interior of an exoplanet may also be full of diamonds.
The planet is hot enough that it has been compared to Star Wars lava world Mustafar, site of the battle between Anakin Skywalker and Obi-Wan Kenobi in “Revenge of the Sith,” and where Darth Vader later established his fortress, Fortress Vader.
The planet, officially named Janssen, but also referred to as 55 Cancri e or 55 Cnc e, orbits its host star Copernicus so closely that the bustling world completes one orbit in less than an Earth day. One year for this planet lasts about 17.5 Earth hours.
The incredibly narrow orbit is why Jansen has temperatures so hot — so close that astronomers have questioned the possibility of a planet while practically embracing a host star.
Astronomers have wondered if a planet is always so close to its star.
A team of researchers used a new instrument known as EXPRES, or EXtreme PREcision Spectrometer, to determine the exact nature of the planet’s orbit. The findings could help astronomers gain new insight into the formation of planets and how these celestial bodies evolve orbit.
The tool was developed at Yale by a team led by astronomer Debra Fisher and installed on the Lowell Discovery Telescope at Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, Arizona. The spectrometer was able to measure tiny shifts in Copernicus’ starlight as Jansen moved between our planet and the star — much like when the moon blocks out the sun during a solar eclipse.
The researchers determined that Jansen orbits along the star’s equator. But Hell is not the only planet orbiting Copernicus. Four other planets on different orbital paths populate the star system.
Astronomers believe that Jansen’s eccentric orbit indicates that the planet initially started out in a cooler, more distant orbit before drifting closer to Copernicus. Then, the pull of gravity from the star’s equator changed Jansen’s orbit.
The journal Nature Astronomy published a study detailing the findings on Thursday.
“Astronomers speculate that this planet formed very far away and then spiraled into its current orbit,” Fisher, the study’s senior author and Eugene Higgins professor of astronomy at Yale University, said in a statement. “This flight could have ejected the planet from the star’s equatorial plane, but this result shows that the planet is very tightly packed.”
Despite the fact that Jansen was not always close to his star, astronomers concluded that the exoplanet was always hot.
“The planet was likely so hot that nothing we knew would be able to survive on the surface,” lead study author Lily Zhao, a research fellow at the Center for Computational Astrophysics in New York at the Flatiron Institute, said in a statement.
Once Jansen approached Copernicus, the planet of Hell It got hotter.
Our solar system is flat as a pancake, with all the planets orbiting the sun on a flat plane because they all formed from the same disk of gas and dust that once orbited the sun.
When astronomers studied other planetary systems, they discovered that many of them do not host planets orbiting on a single flat plane, which begs the question of how unique our solar system is in the universe.
This type of data can provide more information about how Earth-like planets and environments exist in the universe.
“We hope to find planetary systems similar to our own, and to better understand the systems we already know about,” Zhao said.
The primary goal of the EXPRES instrument is to discover Earth-like planets.
“Our accuracy with EXPRES today is more than 1,000 times better than we had 25 years ago when I started out as a planet hunter,” Fisher said. “Improving measurement accuracy has been the primary goal of my career because it allows us to detect smaller planets as we search for Earth analogues.”
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