Print 56 comment(s) - last by gladiatorua.. on Jun 16 at 11:12 AM

55 Cancri e (artist depiction)  (Source: NASA)
"Superearth" is a bit toasty with a sun-facing temperature of 2,000 Kelvin (3,140 degrees Fahrenheit)

Affixed in an 18-hour tidally locked orbit, 55 Cancri e is a bit like Earth, although in many ways altogether alien.

I. An Extreme Superearth

The water-world planet is located in a system with at least 5 planets just 41 light years from Earth.  The tidal-locking means that its orbit takes the same amount of time that it takes to rotate on its axis -- hence the same "side" of the planet is always facing the Sun.  If Earth were tidally locked (which it is not), a particular side (say North and South America) would enjoy 24-hour days, while the opposite side (Asia) would be cloaked in perpetual darkness.

This raises some interesting possibilities for 55 Cancri e.  Based on new infrared light data collected from NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope, scientists have developed new insight into the alien world's climate.  Cancri e's sun-facing side is a scorching 2,000 Kelvin (3,140 degrees Fahrenheit), with water existing in a super-critical state where it is found in localized, ever-shifting pockets of liquid and gas, topped with a thick blanket of steam.  But the night side is likely cool and liquid.

The blazing heat from the 55 Cancri star means there is likely no atmosphere, since it would long ago have burned away.  No atmosphere means that there would be no substantial heat transfer to the far reaches of the night side, making it almost as cold as the other side is hot.  But betwixt the icy night side and the blistering supercritical day side, there could be a region in which water is almost at Earth-like temperatures, warmed by conductive currents from the day-side.

Such a region of the water-world could support life, in theory, or be colonizable, although NASA concludes that most of the planet's icy or blazing surface is generally "not habitable".

Scientists hypothesize that a rocky core may lie deep between the deep-water sea.  Such a core could provide basic mineral resources to organisms or human colonists.

II. Planet to be Further Examined in 2018

While the Spitzer telescope has been on the planetary hunt since 2005, 55 Cancri e is its first "superearth" discovery.  "Superearth" refers to a recently discovered class of planets that shares some similarities to our own.  The planets are generally more massive than Earth, but lighter than lesser gas giants like Neptune.  55 Cancri e is about twice the radius of Earth and about eight times as massive.

Infrared readings
Infrared readings provide valuable clues to the composition (and cllimate) of 55 Cancri e.
[Image Source: NASA]

The foreign world will be further probed by the NASA James Webb Space Telescope, which will launch in 2018.  The James Webb Telescope will be equipped with more advanced spectral sensors capable of examining the exact chemical compositions of superearth planets like 55 Cancri e, probing them for fundamental life necessities like carbon.  The James Webb Telescope was originally scheduled for a 2013 launch, and narrowly avoided being scrapped in 2011 due to budgetary concerns.

Skeptics long argued that our solar system was unique and that other stars lacked planets.  Such claims have been dashed by modern science, which have shown that many stars -- even those close to Earth have numerous planets, indicating our solar system is more of an observance of cosmic rules, rather than a fortuitous fluke.  Likewise, while many argue that life does not exist on alien worlds, many researchers believe that science will soon prove otherwise.

Source: NASA

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By Nyu on 6/8/2012 1:38:40 PM , Rating: 1
Could you use C like the rest of the world?

By geddarkstorm on 6/8/2012 1:58:58 PM , Rating: 2
Just plug it into Google, problem solved.

Or take that 2,000 kelvin and subtract 273.15. Problem solved, again.

By ipay on 6/8/2012 2:22:42 PM , Rating: 2
We use Python :p

But yeah, English system is not even use by English people anymore.

By WalksTheWalk on 6/8/2012 2:54:33 PM , Rating: 5
The US really needs to go metric. Measuring things by 8th, 16th and 32nd of an inch needs to go away.

By Reclaimer77 on 6/8/2012 3:56:29 PM , Rating: 4
Never! Freeedddooooommmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm!!!!!!!!!!!!!

By johnsmith9875 on 6/11/2012 10:23:38 AM , Rating: 5
We must stick to our conventional measuring system. Its very popular worldwide. Liberia and Burma use it.

By Devilboy1313 on 6/8/2012 7:19:20 PM , Rating: 2
I always thought it was because Americans only had 8 fingers and 8 toes thus the 8 / 16 thing (and if they have a buddy 16/32). :)

By martin5000 on 6/9/2012 9:12:05 AM , Rating: 5
I find it amusing when people insist on using imperial units (what Americans call English units), because if you then ask them how many yards in a mile, pints in a gallon, ounces in a pound, what a quart is? etc. they very rarely know. Yet they pretty much always know how many grams in a kilogram, metres in a kilometre.

And when you get onto more complex units imperial just gets absurd.

By Totally on 6/9/2012 9:25:01 AM , Rating: 1
You sure not asking dumb people b/c that's pretty basic stuff.

By martin5000 on 6/9/2012 9:44:03 AM , Rating: 3
Maybe its more common to know in the USA as the units are more commonly used. But can you tell me how many chains there are in a fathom without looking it up? Or convert a random number of yards into miles?

I could instantly do the equivalent calculations in metric.

And these are the most simple units!

By Manch on 6/9/2012 10:36:00 AM , Rating: 1
For Americans, when you grow up using imperial(U.S. std) units, then it's as normal as speaking American English. Of course we use metric for some things, so its no bother either. Personally, I use whichever fits the job at hand. Both standards have their advantages/disadvantages. My biggest pet peeve though is when working on my car, sometimes bolt/nuts/fasteners are metric, sometimes U.S. std.

This mixture has led to some unfortunate snafu's (NASA we're looking at you) but having the choice, I prefer to keep on using both. Like reclaimer said. FREEEEEEEEEEEDDDDDDDDDDDDOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOMMMMM! !!!!!!!!!!

By Reclaimer77 on 6/9/2012 8:07:28 PM , Rating: 2
Yes I think it's funny when people assume we don't use Metric for things. I helped my friend change his radiator today, and being a Subaru, of course everything was in Metric. Yeah it was soooo hard pulling out that Metric socket set and going to town.

Having variety is good. We don't "need" to switch over to metric just because you can move a decimal point and convert easier. It's not a bit deal working with Imperial. FREEEDDDDOOOOMMMMMMMMMMMMMMM!!!!!!!!

By Gurthang on 6/11/2012 8:56:28 AM , Rating: 4
We don't. Let me give you a little hint. Metric does not own Kilo-, milli-, nano- etc. While metric has some nice little definitions a meter is still another arbritrary unit defined by a standards body. You could just as easily measure distance in kiloyards if it pleases you or divide a meter into fractions. The differience is that there are several named units for each measure in the US/Imperial system which can be nice when describing things at various scales. Though most are almost never used like fathom/chain mostly because they were never in common use. (Though fathom is so much more fun to use than meters if you are going for that whole nautical theme punctuated with a few yarrs...)

Now where I would be fine to start switching to one system would be for common things like bolts and hose. And while you are at it get rid of screws/bolts that only use a flat head screwdriver.

By drlumen on 6/10/2012 6:50:19 PM , Rating: 2
I think it's more of a comprehension or mental image type of thing. If someone says pint I know how much that is in size and content. If someone says 500mL then I have to do a rough conversion to know if they are talking about an amount closer to a shotglass or swimming pool.

Personally, I prefer using using pint instead of 473mL or even half a liter. Yes I know the UK pint is different than the US pint but shows even the UK is not completely metric.

By tng on 6/11/2012 5:43:37 PM , Rating: 2
I think it's more of a comprehension or mental image type of thing.
That is exactly it for me. I can picture 1, 3, or 10mm in my head, but 1/8" or 7/32"? No way.

However for larger measurements in miles or Kilometers, I still prefer miles. I prefer F over C for temp just because you have more resolution without going to decimal places. Everybody is different.

By wordsworm on 6/9/2012 10:05:30 AM , Rating: 2
Actually, and I am more used to metric than I am Imperial or the American version of it, but that's what gives it its particular usefulness. A 10 digit numerical system is somewhat mathematically inferior to an 8 or 12 digit system in terms of its divisibility.

This is why computers use a variety of different number systems: binary, octal, hexadecimal, are the three that I know of.

It is easy to look at a foot and divide it into its 12 parts (inches): 2, 3, 4, 6 vs 10 which is only divisible into 2, 5. And then, because imperial works in quarters and eighths, there are 4, 6, 16, 24 quarters or 8, 12, 32, and 48 eighths in those measurements, respectively. With metric, you cannot do that, or more precisely, it is not used in that way. You may divide a metre into 5 decimetres, and already you cannot further divide it without changing into centimetres. So, fifty centimetres can be divided to become 25 centimetres. But you cannot divide it by 3, or 4, or 8.

Anyways, I think I'm rambling too much and I'm probably not making my point entirely transparent. My point is that imperial does indeed have its strengths when compared to metric.

By martin5000 on 6/9/2012 11:07:35 AM , Rating: 2
But there are 14 pounds in a stone, and 16 ounces in a pound, so it is very inconsistent.

Also, is having a decimal place really a problem?

Metric has a lot of beauty when you look at how all the units are connected; 1 cm3 of water is exactly one gram, and a joule is 1 amp through 1 ohm for 1 second and 1 newton through 1 metre.

By jbwhite99 on 6/11/2012 9:18:21 PM , Rating: 2
Actually, 1 gm of water is 1cm^3 at 4 degrees celsius (39.2F) to be particular.

By Black1969ta on 6/9/2012 5:27:54 PM , Rating: 2
What's really stupid is using 8th's, 16th's, 32nd's, 64th's; and hundredths, thousandths, ten thousandths.

By foolsgambit11 on 6/8/2012 7:00:56 PM , Rating: 2
I think using K in this context was probably more appropriate. I'm always concerned when I see conversions, though, because we end up with 3140F, which some site will use as their only description of the temperature, leading people to believe there are three significant digits of accuracy to the measurement, which I doubt. This is how we end up thinking human body temperature is 98.6F.

By martin5000 on 6/9/2012 9:15:45 AM , Rating: 2
Ok but the original units were almost certainly centigrade or more likely kelvin. If you used old units in a scientific organisation you'd be laughed out the building.

By sigmatau on 6/9/2012 3:20:09 PM , Rating: 2
Only fools can't convert kelvins into celcius. Never mind converting fahrenheit to celcius.

I find it sad that I can convert fahrenheit to celcius faster than doctors and even nurses that have to do it every day.

By inperfectdarkness on 6/12/2012 2:15:42 AM , Rating: 2
no. because C has less increments, making it harder to define a given temperature for human tolerances. Just between 0-20 C equates to 32-68F, which is a difference of 16 degree increments that exist in F that aren't there in C. i don't favor using decimal points in giving out temperature, so i say F stays, C goes. screw kelvin, i say go rankine.

By gladiatorua on 6/16/2012 11:12:21 AM , Rating: 2
Can you tell the difference between 19 and 20 C?
The only field where decimals in Centigrade are used(outside of science) is human body temperature. 36.6 C is norm. >37 <38 is a light fever. >40 - close to deadly body temperature.

Who Are These So-Called Critics?
By Arsynic on 6/8/2012 1:41:59 PM , Rating: 4
Who are these people saying that there aren't any other planets? What did they base this on?

RE: Who Are These So-Called Critics?
By bah12 on 6/8/2012 1:49:33 PM , Rating: 5
It was Micks typical BS paragraph designed solely to bait posters into a Religion vs Science post fest and drive his hits up. Nothing to see in that paragraph ... move on. Although the paragraph is 100% accurate it is clearly here only as flame bait.

RE: Who Are These So-Called Critics?
By geddarkstorm on 6/8/2012 1:55:55 PM , Rating: 2
Until now, no one knew the frequency at which such solar systems could occur, so there was never a basis to judge such a statement by (it was never right nor wrong). Now we have actual, empirical information, and it appears solar systems are the rule not the exception, even to binary systems.

Of course, this also means that the galaxy has some immense real estate to explore, if we can master physics enough to get out there.

RE: Who Are These So-Called Critics?
By bah12 on 6/8/2012 2:07:06 PM , Rating: 2
Think you missed my point. The rest of the article was precise and too the point, but the moment I read that paragraph it was easy to see he was trying to start the same old tired rants that needlessly fill up any DT article. I just felt out of place and completely off tone from the rest of the piece.

By geddarkstorm on 6/8/2012 2:00:13 PM , Rating: 2
Oh, no, I meant to reply to the OP. You're point is completely spot on. False dilemmas are good at stirring up drama, and drama is good at stirring up hits.

RE: Who Are These So-Called Critics?
By foolsgambit11 on 6/8/2012 6:55:47 PM , Rating: 1
I disagree. You know, on principle, because we need to fill this thread up with something....

But seriously, DT does need hits to survive, so those same old tired rants don't necessarily "needlessly" fill up DT articles. I mean, in the absence of articles that could stir up real discussion. Instead, we'll get another article about the newest hybrid cars, so Reclaimer77 & co. can start another debate by missing the point entirely.

And yes, that was flame bait.

RE: Who Are These So-Called Critics?
By Devilboy1313 on 6/8/2012 7:13:51 PM , Rating: 2
Could be worse. If it was just about the hit count the title would have been 'Apple sues over "Water-World" discovery' or some such nonsense.

That said it is nice to see other scientific areas being covered as well, instead of the same old same old.

By JKflipflop98 on 6/9/2012 3:41:22 AM , Rating: 2
I think we can all step back and agree that technology kicks ass. Amirite?

By McTardy on 6/8/2012 5:27:46 PM , Rating: 5
Spot on friend, spot on. I'll give Mick one thing - he's consistent.

Yes, I'm aware of the irony of posting negative things about Jason Mick on a Jason Mick DT article does nothing but drive up his hit/post count and further justifies his paycheck.

RE: Who Are These So-Called Critics?
By V-Money on 6/9/2012 12:53:06 AM , Rating: 2
Not to argue one way or the other, but why would it bait religious arguments, if you read Moses 1:35 " For behold, there are many worlds that have passed away by the word of my power. And there are many that now stand, and innumerable are they unto man; but all things are numbered unto me, for they are mine and I aknow them" or moses 1:38 "And as one earth shall pass away, and the heavens thereof even so shall another come; and there is no aend to my works, neither to my words" than the people who are arguing based on religion are just not reading the right scriptures.

By bh192012 on 6/11/2012 12:16:06 PM , Rating: 2
Yes clearly god acknowledges aliens and other planets exist if, you turn to chapter 2 of the book of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.... ya know, since we're arbitrarily adding books of fiction to other sets of books of fiction. </wink>

RE: Who Are These So-Called Critics?
By Strunf on 6/11/2012 7:28:17 AM , Rating: 2
I wouldn't call 100% correct, our solar system is indeed unique, there hasn't been found yet a single solar system like ours, sure there are plenty of other solar systems but that's like saying that humans and cows are the same cause after all we are also mammals, or that Mars and Earth are the same, they aren't and even the slightest difference on this scale makes a huge difference.

Im not an astronomer but...
By MadAd on 6/8/2012 1:17:43 PM , Rating: 2
...if its that close with no atmosphere wouldnt there be too much radiation from the sun for life that we recognise to survive, even in the habitable ring?

I wouldnt rule out maybe some small biological entities may have formed but fish type life along a path similar to our own wouldnt have a chance surely?

RE: Im not an astronomer but...
By Iketh on 6/8/2012 1:39:13 PM , Rating: 2
Pretty sure the habitable area would be in the darker portion of the ring, so that you'd always be in the shade looking at a dusk sky.

RE: Im not an astronomer but...
By cochy on 6/8/2012 2:45:18 PM , Rating: 2
He means the whole planet lacks an atmosphere therefore there wouldn't be any terrestrial life. I imagine aquatic life could still exist, provided it doesn't require an atmosphere to breathe.

RE: Im not an astronomer but...
By Etsp on 6/8/2012 2:46:35 PM , Rating: 2
That's not what the OP meant. At all.

RE: Im not an astronomer but...
By muy on 6/9/2012 11:16:03 AM , Rating: 2
terrestrial life on a water world, hm, ain't that a contradiction ?

RE: Im not an astronomer but...
By MrBlastman on 6/11/2012 11:43:27 AM , Rating: 2
Correct, if it were there, it'd be in the terminator. Not only that, but it'd also be localized to deep within the water in order to shield it from x-rays and gamma rays. That is, assuming it is life in the way we know it. For all we know there could (and probably is) life that exists in a radically different form that we can even comprehend.

What I'm really curious about is how this planet is tidally locked with the sub-G star in the system rather than the M. The article totally neglects to mention this is a binary starsystem at all. From what I can tell, the planet is intensely close to the host star which would explain the tidal locking given an 18-hour period. Man, what a wild ride it'd be to sit on that planet and look up at the stars... might even make you dizzy trying to stand up given how fast it has to move to maintain the orbit.

The planet is only 0.01560 ± 0.00011 AU's from the host star. That is 66 times closer than our Earth is to our own Sun. That is even 19 times closer to the Sun than Mercury at it's closest point! The velocity must be insane (I'd calculate it but I'm sleepy this morning and getting over a cold).

By Florinator on 6/8/2012 3:00:15 PM , Rating: 3
Even the discovery of a bacterium outside of planet Earth would probably be revolutionary, let alone multi-celular organisms or advanced life forms such as fish :-)

Please check your facts
By Jeremy87 on 6/8/2012 2:18:05 PM , Rating: 3
55 Cancri e is about twice the volume of Earth and about eight times as massive.

You could've just quoted the video's "twice the size", because it turns out their "size" is one-dimensional, making the volume eight times as large, just like its mass.

RE: Please check your facts
By Jeremy87 on 6/8/2012 7:25:15 PM , Rating: 2
I see it's fixed now. Another small nitpick I forgot to mention:

The planets are generally more massive than Earth, but lighter than lesser gas giants like Neptune.

Neptune may be the smallest of our gas giants by volume, but it's heavier than Uranus by almost 20%.

RE: Please check your facts
By Skywalker123 on 6/9/2012 3:25:42 AM , Rating: 4
Its not nearly as heavy as Reclaimer's anus.

No atmosphere ?
By Gondor on 6/8/2012 4:48:44 PM , Rating: 3
So there is a bunch of water, plenty of heat and plenty of water in gaseous state (steam), plus who knows whatever other gasses that perhaps haven't been detected yet. How can there be no atmosphere ? I mean, the gravity field of this planet is obviously strong enough to keep the gaseous water from evaporating away into space, which is the very definition of "atmosphere".

Or was it supposed to say there is no Earth-like atmosphere (with its specific gas mixture) ?

RE: No atmosphere ?
By chemist1 on 6/8/2012 8:26:38 PM , Rating: 2
Good question, since for water to be in a supercritical state, it must be under a pressure > 3200 psi. According to this more extended video ( what may be the case is not that there is a steam atmosphere above a supercritical water ocean, but rather that the sun-side surface is rocky, with supercritical water escaping from vents in that rocky surface (at which point it would no longer be supercritical). And it may be that transient, escaping gaseous water is not sufficient to qualify as an atmosphere. Any space scientists care to comment?

RE: No atmosphere ?
By chemist1 on 6/8/2012 8:31:38 PM , Rating: 2
Good question, since for water to be in a supercritical state, it must be under a pressure > 3200 psi. According to this more extended video ( what may be the case is not that there is a steam atmosphere above a supercritical water ocean, but rather that the sun-side surface is rocky, with supercritical water escaping from vents in that rocky surface (at which point it would no longer be supercritical). And it may be that transient, escaping gaseous water is not sufficient to qualify as an atmosphere. Any space scientists care to comment?

By DukeN on 6/8/2012 2:33:04 PM , Rating: 2
Ali G discovered Waterworld and the related scandal long ago.

RE: Pfft..
By Devilboy1313 on 6/8/2012 7:29:58 PM , Rating: 3
You know there's a restraining order between Sacha Baron Cohen and "anything even remotely intelligent". Mr. Cohen and all his aliases must keep 328 feet / 100 meters from "anything even remotely intelligent".

You use of "Ali G" in this forum violates that restraining order. Mr. Cohen has been complying with this order, as proved by his movies, interviews and tv shows. Please ensure that when you mention him again that it has nothing to do with "anything even remotely intelligent".

Thank you for your co-operation,

The society to support "anything even remotely intelligent"

RE: Pfft..
By DukeN on 6/11/2012 10:44:05 AM , Rating: 1
Sarcasm = clearly not even remotely intelligent - Signed, society of the don't give a fucks

24 Hour Days
By MozeeToby on 6/8/2012 1:06:25 PM , Rating: 3
If Earth were tidally locked (which it is not), a particular side (say North and South America) would enjoy 24-hour days [...]
I know what you're going for there but it's just confusing. Perhaps "unending days" or "uninterrupted sunlight" would get your point across better.

Tidally locked planets are interesting from a habitability standpoint. While this one is much too close to its sun to retain an atmosphere, one even a bit farther out would be nearly guaranteed to have an area somewhere on its surface that would have habitable temperatures. They used to be called "ring worlds" in science fiction because the habitable area would form a ring around the planet near the terminator. That is, until Ringworld was written (for the nerds) or Halo was released (for the gamers) and stole the term out from under it.

24-hour days?
By Jeremy87 on 6/8/2012 2:06:13 PM , Rating: 3
There's nothing "24 hours" about that. If anything, the days would last 365 of the days we have now, but the next one starts instantly... nevermind, it's never going to make sense. The day would never end.

By Ammohunt on 6/9/2012 12:22:48 AM , Rating: 2
Is that irish? reminds me of the scene from Blazing Saddles...

Life on other planets
By pwnsweet on 6/13/2012 9:26:36 AM , Rating: 2
If life is ever 100% proven to exist on other planets (via direct observation/communication) I will happily give one of you all that I own.

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