This story is over 5 years old.


Check Out the Boiling Hellscape of Planet 55 Cancri E in this Video Rendering

This exoplanet orbits so close to its sun that a year lasts only 18 hours.
Rachel Pick
New York, US

For the first time ever, astronomers were able to determine the atmospheric makeup of a super-Earth exoplanet, 55 Cancri e—and it looks like a terrifying, boiling hellscape.

55 Cancri e was discovered back in 2004, and in 2012 astronomers speculated that it may be a carbon-rich planet chock-full of diamonds. Research has since walked back that theory, but 55 Cancri e is still plenty unusual. For one, it orbits so close to its sun that a year on 55 Cancri e lasts only 18 hours, and the surface temperature is estimated to be at least 2000 degrees Celsius, or 3632 degrees Fahrenheit. This video, which shows an artist's rendering of 55 Cancri e orbiting its sun, depicts the planet as a red-hot hostile world.

Astronomers from the University College London were able to learn about the planet's atmosphere using a new technique. They used the Hubble telescope's Wide Field Camera 3 instrument to do a quick scan, creating a number of spectra which were then analyzed by a new software. Spectroscopy measures objects' electromagnetic radiation and is often used to estimate the properties of celestial bodies, but this is the first time it was able to estimate atmospheric composition of a super-Earth.

The result? A dry atmosphere made mostly of hydrogen and helium, plus a sprinkling of hydrogen cyanide, which hints at the presence of carbon but is also highly toxic.

Lead astronomer Angelos Tsiaras said in a statement, "The observations of 55 Cancri e's atmosphere suggest that the planet has managed to cling on to a significant amount of hydrogen and helium from the nebula from which it originally formed."

Tsiaras' colleague Jonathan Tennyson also added, "it is perhaps not a planet I would like to live on." No kidding.