Astronomers have detected a Super-Earth atmosphere for the first time

This artist’s impression shows the super-Earth 55 Cancri e in front of its parent star. (credit: ESA/Hubble, M. Kornmesser)

No, 55 Cancri e isn't an exoplanet anyone will want to visit anytime soon. Because it orbits so close to its star, the world has a surface temperature of around 2,000 degrees Celsius. But that hasn't prevented the planet, recently named "Janssen" by the International Astronomical Union, from having an atmosphere. And it's an interesting atmosphere indeed.

Discovered back in 2004, Janssen was one of the first "super Earths" found by astronomers. These planets, larger than Earth but considerably smaller than the gas giants of the Solar System, are thought to be the most common type of planets in the galaxy. Now, using a technique to tease atmospheric data out of Hubble Space Telescope observations, scientists have been able to deduce the atmosphere of this particular super Earth.

According to results published in the Astrophysical Journal, European astronomers have found hydrogen and helium in the atmosphere around Janssen, which may have a diamond-like core due to its very high density. This atmosphere is likely a remnant of the nebula from which the planet and its star formed about 8 billion years ago. The planet has kept this atmosphere somehow, despite the proximity of its star.

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