James Webb telescope will be aimed at two intriguing rocky exoplanets

(ORDO NEWS) — With the segment mirrors of NASA’s James Webb Space Observatory now perfectly aligned and its onboard scientific instruments in the calibration phase, the observatory is weeks away from finally completing its commissioning phase.

Shortly after the first observations this summer, the James Webb Observatory will move into full-fledged scientific operations.

Explorations planned for the first year included two hot super-Earth exoplanets, the lava-covered planet 55 Cancer e and the airless planet LHS 3844 b.

The researchers will send Webb Observatory’s precision spectrographs to these planets to gain a deeper understanding of the geological diversity of planets in our Galaxy, as well as the evolution of rocky planets like Earth.

Planet 55 Cancer e orbits less than 1 million kilometers from its Sun-like parent star, completing one revolution around the star in less than 18 hours.

Surface temperatures far exceed the melting temperatures of the minerals of many typical rocks, and so the planet’s dayside is presumably covered in oceans of lava.

Planets orbiting as close to a star as planet 55 Cancer e are usually tidally locked to the star, so they always face the same side of the star.

This implies that the hottest spot on a planet’s surface is always the zone directly facing and closest to the star.

However, in the case of the planet 55 Cancer e, observations made with the Spitzer space observatory showed that the hottest point is shifted to the side of the “star-gazing” zone.

This may indicate either a dense dynamic atmosphere or the absence of a tidal capture of the planet, and only observations of the planet using the Webb Observatory can clarify the situation.

The temperature on the surface of the planet LHS 3844 b is not so high that molten rocks form seas and oceans on it.

The planet revolves around the parent star with a period that is close in magnitude to the period of revolution of the planet 55 Cancer e around the parent star, however, in the case of the planet LHS 3844 b, the parent star has a much smaller size and luminosity, and therefore the stones on the surface of this planet are in a solid state.

The planet’s lack of an atmosphere, recorded by the Spitzer, will allow for valuable spectroscopic observations of the various types of solid rock that make up the surface, the project members explained. If the planet is volcanically active, then the resulting spectra will also reveal the presence of volcanic gases.


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