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Studying a “Super Earth”
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Posted: May 09, 2024
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    An illustration of 55 Cancri e, right, orbiting its star (NASA/JPL-Caltech via AP)

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What’s hanging around that planet?

Scientists say, “It’s an atmosphere!”

An atmosphere is layers of gas surrounding a planet or other space object. On Earth, the atmosphere shields people, plants, and animals from ultraviolet radiation from the Sun. It also insulates the planet, keeping it warm. And, it provides the air we breathe!

But these scientists aren’t looking at Earth. They’re studying 55 Cancri e. This rocky planet is outside the Solar System. The planet fits into the “super Earth” category. That means it’s bigger than Earth but smaller than Neptune.

Scientists say this super Earth is wrapped in a blanket of carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide. Our atmosphere is a blend of nitrogen, oxygen, argon, and other gases.

Even with an atmosphere, you wouldn’t want to visit 55 Cancri e. The temperatures there reach 4,200 degrees Fahrenheit! It has oceans. But they’re boiling magma oceans—not exactly good for a swim.

55 Cancri e is 41 light-years away. A light-year is nearly six trillion miles. So this planet is really far from us. It’s eight times heavier than Earth. It closely orbits its star, Copernicus. (Read about the man for whom the star was named here.)

Scientists wonder if other rocky planets like this one exist. Could any be friendly to life?

You are the Lord, you alone. You have made heaven, the heaven of heavens, with all their host, the Earth and all that is on it, the seas and all that is in them; and you preserve all of them; and the host of heaven worships you. — Nehemiah 9:6