Scientists found an extreme planet forty light years from Earth, in which atmospheric temperature was observed to swing erratically from 1,800 to 4,900 Fahrenheit(°F) degrees in a two-year period course.
Astronomers cannot ascertain what could be the cause of these drastic fluctuation in temperature, but a new study suggests gigantic volcanoes on the planet’s surface to be the root.
“While we can’t be entirely sure, we think a likely explanation for this variability is large-scale surface activity, possibly volcanism,” Brice-Olivier Demory from University of Cambridge said in a statement.
Demory is the author of a study paper published Monday in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, which describes the process on how the gas and dust particles in gigantic volcanic plumes can blanket the thermal emanation of the planet when perceived from Earth, enabling its atmosphere to look cooler from our telescopes.
Called 55 Cancri E, this extreme planet is a super-Earth, meaning it is rocky and 2 to 10 times larger in size to our planet. 55 Cancri E is about double of Earth’s diameter, and has eight times the mass. It is also locked with its star tidally, one side stays in perpetual light, and another remains in perpetual dark.
Discovered in 2004, it is the first rocky planet to be seen away from our solar system, exoplanets were only previously identified as gas giants that were easier to locate because their enormous size, 300 times the size of Earth.
Though 55 Cancri E lies close to its host star and has an orbital cycle of a mere 18 days around its sun.
Due to its high temperature even on its coolest days, the super-Earth’s outmost shell is likely weakened, if not wholly molten, leading to formation of magma oceans and likelihood of volcanic activity, researchers say.
But it will take more time, observations, and more sensitive apparatus to be absolutely sure what is going on.
Nikku Madhusudhan of Cambridge’s Institute of Astronomy and a co-author of the study in a statement said, “The present variability is something we’ve never seen anywhere else, so there’s no robust conventional explanation.”