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Atmospheric Characteristics Of Super-Earth Exoplanet Revealed

Update Date: Feb 17, 2016 11:28 AM EST

Astronomers have managed to analyze a super-Earth atmosphere from information gained from a Space Agency's (ESA's) Hubble Space Telescope. This is a class of exoplanets that have never had their atmosphere analyzed.

The recent study shows that the super-Earth exoplanet 55 Cancri e possesses a dry atmosphere composed of mostly hydrogen and helium, but without any indications of water vapor.

The study will be released in The Astrophysical Journal 

"This is a very exciting result because it's the first time that we have been able to find the spectral fingerprints that show the gases present in the atmosphere of a super-Earth," Angelos Tsiaras, who helped in the development of the analysis technique, said in a press release. "The observations of 55 Cancri e's atmosphere suggest that the planet has managed to cling on to a significant amount of hydrogen and helium from the nebula from which it originally formed."

Super-Earths are the most common type of planet in the Milky Way and got to be dubbed "super-earth" due to masses greater than the earth's. Still, they are smaller than other gas giants in the Milky Way.

No spectral features were found in any of the studies, even when the Wide Field Camera 3 (WFC3) on the Hubble Space Telescope was used to examine the atmospheres of two other super-Earths.

"This result gives the first insight into the atmosphere of a super-Earth. We now have clues as to what the planet is currently like and how it might have formed and evolved, and this has important implications for 55 Cancri e and other super-Earths," said Giovanna Tinetti, another member of the research team.

The data showed that hydrogen cyanide may be present. This indicates that the atmosphere is carbon-rich.

"Such an amount of hydrogen cyanide would indicate an atmosphere with a very high ratio of carbon to oxygen," said Olivia Venot, who created an atmospheric chemical model of 55 Cancri e.

Confirming the presence of hydrogen cyanide and more molecules, with the help of infrared telescopes, will support the theory that the super-Earth exoplanet has an exotic, carbon-rich atmosphere.

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