Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Deep Space | Eclipse of Nearby "Super-Earth" Spotted

"Everyone’s been waiting for a system like this." -- Josh Winn, MIT

A team of astronomers led by MIT physicist Josh Winn has observed a "super-Earth" eclipsing its star, which is "right around the corner," at least in astronomical terms.

Only 40 light years away, 55 Cancri e is twice as big as Earth and over eight times as massive.

According to an April 2011 study led by Winn, the exoplanet is most likely "a rock-iron composition supplemented by a significant mass of water, gas, or other light elements," similar to Earth.

Though exoplanets are main suspects for possible extraterrestrial life, the kind of life we have on Earth would not survive on 55 Cancri e: Its surface temperature is about 2,700 degrees Celsius.

But this star system has a lot of value. As the star is relatively close to Earth, it appears 100 times brighter than other stars with known exoplanets.

"Everything we do in astronomy is starving for more light," Winn says in an MIT news release. "The more light a star gives you, the more chances you have of learning something interesting…and everyone’s been waiting for a system like this that you can study in great detail."

"It’s still going to be hard to learn everything about this planet," says Winn. "But at least we have what might be the best system in the sky to study it."

TONIGHT, LOOK UP
  • Find out what's in the sky tonight (Sky and Telescope)
  • Download this month's free evening sky map (Skymaps)
TODAY, TAKE ACTION
SOME REASONS TO SMILE
  • The New Vegan CEO (Care2)
  • Maritime countries agree on first-ever shipping emissions regulation (Guardian)
  • Nearly 3,000 fewer New Yorkers died of cancer last year compared to a decade ago (Associated Press)
A FEW RELATED POSTS
MARK YOUR CALENDAR
CHECK OUT PAST SERIES
  • Gray Matters: Thinking about thinking (June 2011)
  • Flower Power: Stopping to smell the angiosperms (May 2011)
  • Animal Cruelty: Looking at the devil within (April 2011)
  • Chemical Month: Exploring the vast laboratory of our daily lives (March 2011)
  • Africa Month: Visiting the world's second-largest continent (February 2011)
  • Reports from 2050: Imagining the future (January 2011)
  • Victory Month: Looking at the victories of 2010, made possible by you (December 2010)
  • Tree Month: Climbing the perennial woody plants that appeared 375 million years ago (November 2010)
  • Food Month: Considering what we put in our mouths (October 2010)
image: A rendering of the silhouette of 55 Cancri e transiting its parent star, compared to the Earth and Jupiter transiting our sun. (image credit: Jason Rowe, NASA/Ames; Jaymie Matthews, UBC)

1 comment:

Super Earth said...

I am surprised I have not heard anything about the quake being caused by the Large super earth. I mean, past earthquakes have been blamed on it.