A recently-released thermal map of a remote exoplanet suggests that the rocky space object has two sides with the most contrasting temperature variations scientists have ever seen.
Astronomers believe that one side of the planet is so hot that lava continuously flows on its surface, while the temperature difference on the other side can reach a mind-boggling 1,027 degrees Celsius.
The rocky planet, which was spotted 40 light-years from Earth, is in fact a Super-Earth. Astronomers estimate that 55 Cancri e is as massive as eight Earths, and needs just 18 hours to complete a trip around its host star.
NASA/ESA’s Hubble Space Telescope recently analyzed the planet and found signs of helium and hydrogen in its atmosphere. It was the first time astronomers got detailed info on a Super-Earth’s atmospheric makeup. So far, only Jupiter-sized planets have been studied due to their gigantic size.
Additionally, the team compiled the first meteorological map of a Super-Earth, and published a study this week in the journal Nature.
Brice-Olivier Demory, lead author of the research paper and astronomer at Cavendish Laboratory in England, noted that the alien planet has extremely high temperatures on its surface, but the temperature differences between its two ‘faces’ are staggering.
Scientists explained that the Super-Earth is tidally locked like our moon. This means that it has a side which eternally faces the sun and a side that is permanently shrouded in darkness.
Researchers believe that the planet displays volcanism, lava flows and other geological phenomena just like our planet does, only that the temperatures can reach 2,427 degrees Celsius on the dayside surface.
But the contrasting temperatures on the planet triggered some strange weather and geological conditions. Astronomers found a bizarre ‘hot spot’ on the side facing the sun. They do not yet know for sure what that may suggest but they have at least two theories.
The research team believes that the hot spot may be either produced by tremendous winds or by molten lava flows. For the first theory to hold water, the nightside temperatures need to drop below zero so that gases in the atmosphere can condense. But the weather map invalidated this scenario.
The other possibility is more likely since at average surface temperatures of 2,427 degrees Celsius the silicate-rich crust on the exoplanet can easily melt and morph into countless streams of molten rock. By contrast, the nightside is relatively cool enough to remain solid, researchers think.
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