As reported in a press release on Phys.org, new observations will allow us to learn more about the “hellish” conditions on the planet, which is located at an extremely close distance from the parent star.
55 Cancri e is located 50 light years from Earth and orbits a sun-like star at a distance of only four million kilometers, which is about 1/25 of the distance from Mercury to the Sun.
Since surface temperatures on the planet’s dayside should be well above the melting point of typical rock-forming minerals, scientists expect the area to be covered in oceans of lava.
The James Webb Telescope has a resolution strong enough to see if the super-Earth is really in a state of tidal capture when facing the parent star with the same hemisphere, or is still rotating around its axis.
Previous observations with the less powerful Spitzer Space Telescope have shown that the hottest spot on the planet’s surface does not coincide with the area directly facing the sun.
One explanation is that the planet has a dynamic atmosphere that moves heat. According to an alternative view, this indicates the absence of tidal capture.
In the latter case, the planet’s surface would periodically heat up, melt and evaporate during the course of the day, forming a thin atmosphere that Webb’s telescope could see.
In the evening, the hot gas should cool and condense, forming a lava rain, and with the onset of night, the molten rocks solidify again.
According to NASA experts, the James Webb Space Telescope will be fully operational in a few weeks, and the first observation results are expected this summer.
The first year will focus on studying 55 Cancri e and the atmosphereless planet LHS 3844 b to better understand the evolution of rocky Earth-like planets.
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