Light from ‘super-Earth’ detected by NASA telescope
May 9th, 2012
12:36 PM ET

Light from ‘super-Earth’ detected by NASA telescope

For the first time, light coming directly from a “super-Earth” planet outside our solar system has been detected.

NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope spotted the light shining from 55 Cancri e, a massive, scorching hot planet located about 41 light years away.

Super-Earths are up to 10 times more massive than our Earth, but lighter than gas giants like Neptune, NASA says. They can be made of gas, rock or a combination of both. Some scientists believe super-Earths have a better chance of being habitable than planets closer to the size of Earth.

Super-Earth 55 Cancri was discovered in 2004. Spitzer and other telescopes already have recorded how light from the planet changed as it passed in front of its star. In the new study, Spitzer measured how much infrared light comes from the planet itself.

The new data indicates the planet is probably dark, and that its sun-facing side is more than 3,140 degrees Fahrenheit (2,000 Kelvin), hot enough to melt metal. NASA says the new information is consistent with an earlier theory that 55 Cancri has a rocky core wrapped in a layer of water (both liquid and gas). The planet is believed to be topped by a blanket of steam.

NASA says in a statement that Spitzer's discovery is historic and will help in the search for life on other planets.

"Spitzer has amazed us yet again," said Bill Danchi, a NASA Spitzer program scientist in Washington. "The spacecraft is pioneering the study of atmospheres of distant planets and paving the way for NASA's upcoming James Webb Space Telescope to apply a similar technique on potentially habitable planets."

The James Webb Space Telescope is scheduled to launch in 2018 and scientists hope it will be able to reveal even more about 55 Cancri’s composition.

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Filed under: In Space
soundoff (116 Responses)
  1. JoJo

    Ah seen one a them there flahin saucers come from that there planet. It had summa them there leeddle green fellers insaad. Dey waaz kienna cute liddle fellers. Ah seen em! Yep.

    May 9, 2012 at 9:19 pm |
  2. James

    Seriously? THAT'S the first place your mind went after reading this?

    And then, understanding that it's 2012, and that the majority of the people reading articles about exoplanetary discovery are probably fairly educated, you felt compelled to leave a comment about it? Really?

    ...did I miss something in CNN's little "code of conduct" blurb about minimum trolling levels?

    May 9, 2012 at 9:08 pm |
  3. terry

    Yeh, what they ^ said!

    May 9, 2012 at 9:03 pm |
  4. reese

    you go 1st or better yet just til you burn in hell!

    May 9, 2012 at 8:08 pm |
  5. ChrisC

    Or all the people named John – I like that idea better.

    May 9, 2012 at 8:06 pm |
    • John B.

      But.. but.. im Named John and Im a nice guy who likes everyone :[

      May 9, 2012 at 9:02 pm |
    • Possum

      ...well, at least, let's send all the puny-minded people named John there.

      May 9, 2012 at 9:07 pm |
  6. melica

    Why in the hell are we looking for life elsewhere when we can't even deal with each other if our skin complexions are different? What do you think the skin color of alien beings would be? You couldn't handle it.

    May 9, 2012 at 7:56 pm |
    • ChrisC

      Seriously....could you begin to imagine how that would work out?

      May 9, 2012 at 8:08 pm |
  7. bobincal

    Any object above absolute zero will emit infrared radiation. This palce sounds like Miami.

    May 9, 2012 at 7:55 pm |
  8. Jeff

    Why would they call it a Super Earth if the temperature can't support life? Doesn't sound like a Super Earth to me...sounds like just another planet.

    May 9, 2012 at 7:29 pm |
    • Jojo

      "Super-Earths are up to 10 times more massive than our Earth." Doesn't mean the planet is Earth-like, just bigger than Earth.

      May 9, 2012 at 8:42 pm |
      • notsofastsunshyne

        Er... so then by that definition, Jupiter is a "Super-Earth." It's diameter is 11 times earth's.

        May 9, 2012 at 9:39 pm |
    • detroitwilly

      They call it an earth because it is roughly the same distance from its star as our earth is from the sun.

      May 9, 2012 at 11:00 pm |
  9. King of Planet Spatula

    I like how they just know everything without knowing how to build a spaceship advanced enough to go and see. Scientists know how the universe began, they know how much it weighs, they even know how to make seedless watermelons. Amazing.

    May 9, 2012 at 7:17 pm |
    • ChrisC

      You took the words out of my mouth!

      May 9, 2012 at 8:00 pm |
    • notsofastsunshyne

      What? You'd rather believe some religious dude with a silly hat about the origins of the universe?
      Scientists can also see subatomic particles and didn't have to build a shrinking machine so that they could actually see that either. Go back to High School biology and learn a little about science.

      May 9, 2012 at 9:41 pm |
    • Judas Priest

      Yes, it's amazing what you can figure out when you get up off your ass and learn something, isn't it?

      May 10, 2012 at 9:34 am |
  10. Wayne

    Reblogged this on JAFO and commented:
    This is such awesome stuff. It's amazing how sensitive our landbased telescopes are.

    May 9, 2012 at 7:08 pm |
    • JT

      Spitzer is in orbit, not land-based.

      May 9, 2012 at 7:10 pm |
  11. Jose Antonio

    So, NASA discovered this super earth planet, besides being too far to travel for humans, it's not even livable. Now that we know it's out there, what are we supposed to do about it ? Maybe more money for NASA space program to build a Starship? to go where no man has gone before.

    May 9, 2012 at 7:04 pm |
    • cosmicsnoop

      Ya! Things were much simpler when we were living on a flat disc and the Gods pulled the Sun and Moon through the sky and the stars were glowing, I miss those days.

      May 9, 2012 at 7:58 pm |
      • notsofastsunshyne

        not to worry comic, there is still a "Flat Earth Society" that still actually believes those things. Flat Earth Society (dot) org. Check it out. It's hysterical.

        May 9, 2012 at 9:48 pm |
    • Jojo

      There is so much irony in someone posting comments online in complaint of science for the sake of science. Next time please scratch your silliness in sand and rock.

      May 9, 2012 at 8:46 pm |
  12. erich2112x

    I bet they're growing major bud.

    May 9, 2012 at 6:48 pm |
    • madscat

      i guess it's our job to help harvest. what a chore but alright...

      May 9, 2012 at 8:37 pm |
  13. Everett Wallace

    On point NASA. I feel and it does Not feel good.

    May 9, 2012 at 6:12 pm |
  14. Takethisnowhere

    I've been there.

    May 9, 2012 at 5:43 pm |
  15. Mike

    PS After today's revelations I would only vote for Ron Paul. It's called integrity.

    May 9, 2012 at 5:00 pm |
    • roger

      I fail to see what Ron Paul has to do with Super-Earths.

      May 9, 2012 at 5:16 pm |
      • Dave

        ... the size of his ego

        May 9, 2012 at 5:25 pm |
    • TommyTee

      MMm so gay marriage or gay rights is not your thing, so what. I guess freedom for you and your kind is only what you believe. Seperation of state and church...this is what is meant by that.

      May 9, 2012 at 6:30 pm |
  16. Mike

    At roughly 40 TRILLION miles from earth, you can classify this as science fiction. We could never reach it in a million lifetimes.

    May 9, 2012 at 4:57 pm |
    • Brandon

      You could reach in an hour if you traveled at 40 trillion miles an hour.

      May 9, 2012 at 5:11 pm |
      • macintrance

        Correct math but incorrect physics. Unless you use some fancy unproven physics theory, you can't travel faster than the speed of light (671 million miles per hour).

        May 9, 2012 at 5:22 pm |
      • albo heineken

        i would just get a genie and tell her to blink her eyes!
        then i would be there in less than 1 second!

        May 9, 2012 at 5:56 pm |
      • TheMovieFan

        If you traveled fast enough such that only an hour passed...

        May 9, 2012 at 6:37 pm |
      • tolo


        May 9, 2012 at 7:05 pm |
      • ysc

        just need to find a wormhole, that's all.

        May 9, 2012 at 7:39 pm |
    • Viking

      With what we have now you are correct. "Pretend" that gravity is a wave not a particle. You can amplify any wave it (just like amplifying sounds) as long as one knows the frequency. Amplifying gravity waves, pointing a tripod like transducer towards the point you want to go, turn on the gravity amplifier and you will bring that point in space to where you are. It will sorround you. Then, gradually decrease the gravity amplifier and you will be pulled instantaneously to that part of space that "engulfed" you. 40, 100, 10.000 light years would be bridged in an instant. Gravity is constant and has some weird properties, when modulated, you can hear the message immediately because it does not travel at the speed of light. There would be no 20 minutes delay to talk to astronauts on Mars. It would be instananeous. Sounds far fetched? Google Element 115 and just keep an open mind. A lot of this stuff has already been done. Trust me!

      May 9, 2012 at 5:15 pm |
      • David

        You are totally wrong. Gravity does travel at the speed of light. Your post is total B... wait, you were joking, weren't you?

        May 9, 2012 at 5:21 pm |
      • Quincy

        Gravity is a doesn't "travel at the speed of light"

        May 9, 2012 at 5:58 pm |
      • Jack Be Humble

        There is no gravity. Things just suck.

        May 9, 2012 at 6:02 pm |
      • tango

        Quincy, gravity is not any force. Like electromagnetic interactions, gravitational interactions do not require a direct contact between bodies. In a relativistic sense, gravity is seen as a deformation in the space-time continuum. Like electromagnetic waves, it can be interpreted that there are gravitational waves and both travel at a maximum speed given by the speed of light.

        May 9, 2012 at 7:09 pm |
      • Jojo

        Nothing like an anonymous post saying "Trust me" to inspire confidence.

        May 9, 2012 at 8:34 pm |
    • Havoq

      Your math is off by almost 200 Trillion

      May 9, 2012 at 6:34 pm |
    • Jojo

      41 light years is about 240 trillion miles.

      May 9, 2012 at 8:30 pm |
  17. Cyg

    In related news, GOP began to equip it's ships for it's evil galactic empire invasion...

    May 9, 2012 at 4:36 pm |
    • ajk68

      Obsess much? This has nothing to do with the GOP.

      May 9, 2012 at 4:52 pm |
      • TommyTee

        Duh, it's a joke.

        May 9, 2012 at 6:32 pm |
    • Space Cowboy

      Romneian invaders.

      May 9, 2012 at 4:52 pm |
    • albo heineken

      george bush jr has announced:
      i am positive that the saddam hussein is hiding WMD on this new planet!
      we will invade this planet and give haliburton all contracts to rip off any people there!

      May 9, 2012 at 5:58 pm |
  18. Khrusted Mucous

    We may develop a better understanding of the potential for this new knowledge after scoping Uranus.

    May 9, 2012 at 4:31 pm |
    • Space Cowboy

      Insearch of Klingons?

      May 9, 2012 at 4:50 pm |
      • Khrusted Mucous

        Or Howdie Doodie

        May 9, 2012 at 5:01 pm |
  19. Jerry S

    Forget Super Earth, I'll wait for Bizzaro Earth

    May 9, 2012 at 4:14 pm |
    • daddyishere

      You mean where everyone has lunch at Reggie's Coffee Shop?

      May 9, 2012 at 4:16 pm |
      • Jerry S

        Hangin' with Gene and Feldman. So what if they read books?

        May 10, 2012 at 10:28 am |
  20. erich2112x

    Gas up the drones.

    May 9, 2012 at 3:49 pm |
  21. Josh

    "that its sun-facing side is more than 3,140 degrees Fahrenheit"

    Sound very Earth like to me. Not.

    May 9, 2012 at 3:49 pm |
    • well

      the jersey shore cast are already on their way there to get the ultimate tan

      May 9, 2012 at 4:04 pm |
      • cosmicsnoop

        Tan Mom beat them there, by 41 light years.

        May 9, 2012 at 8:04 pm |
  22. Reemo

    "Super-Earth" is such a misleading name for a planet that's not inhabitable for any known lifeform. Surely they could come up with a more accurate term. Here are a few suggestions:


    May 9, 2012 at 3:47 pm |
    • WIlly

      Good point. how about "Hot Not green Hulk earth", "Boiling hot can't live there earth" "round like earth but would melt your hair planet". I like the endless possibilities.

      May 9, 2012 at 6:00 pm |
      • Josh

        How about not even using the term "Earth" to describe any rocky planet, unless it is indeed Earth-like (liquid water, N/O2 atmosphere, dry continents, etc).

        May 9, 2012 at 6:28 pm |
    • Josh

      Its a planet just like Earth, except it has been Super-sized by McD's.

      May 9, 2012 at 6:25 pm |
  23. ashton

    super earth at 3140 degrees why not just call it hell on earth or venus oven ....what ever

    May 9, 2012 at 3:32 pm |
  24. Richard

    What a brainless designation. "Super-Earth?" In what way is that dupicate of an N-class star a super Earth??

    May 9, 2012 at 3:25 pm |
    • Jojo

      "Super-Earths are up to 10 times more massive than our Earth." Doesn't mean the planet is Earth-like, just bigger than Earth.

      May 9, 2012 at 8:38 pm |
  25. ebs

    Earthlings, stop looking at our planet. Stick to your petty squables on your cold rock or we will lobotomize you. That is all.

    May 9, 2012 at 3:24 pm |
    • cpc65

      @ebs, I see that you already started with our leaders.

      May 9, 2012 at 5:53 pm |
    • Wobbles

      Please, please lobotomize Mittens Romney at your earliest convenience.

      May 9, 2012 at 6:31 pm |
      • John Holroyd

        We already did that.

        May 9, 2012 at 7:17 pm |
  26. JT

    So who invented the term "super-earth" and if it just means "a planet that's between the size of the Earth and Neptune" then it seems like an arbitrary and pointless term.

    It doesn't sound like it is hospitible to life and I definitely did not get that one side always faces its star – it sounded like they meant the surface during the day reached that temperature.

    Even if we find a planet that's hospitable to life – there's no way we'd be able to tell if life actually existed there or not, just that it might be possible. I guess that's a start.

    May 9, 2012 at 3:08 pm |
    • somebody

      The article says that super-Earth planets are up to 10x larger than the Earth, yet LIGHTER than Neptune. No where in the articel does it state that super-Earth's are in between the size of Earth and Neptune.

      May 9, 2012 at 3:13 pm |
    • Smitty

      I agree completely sir, well put.

      May 9, 2012 at 3:17 pm |
    • Matt

      You people are so dumb. I like how you don't understand the concept of one side always facing the star (just like the one side of the moon that always faces the Earth...), but then you make such a definitive statement like "there's no way we'd be able to tell if life actually existed there or not". So now you're as astrobiologist? I wish ignorant people at least knew when to just be quiet.

      May 9, 2012 at 4:16 pm |
    • Raedwulf

      The term Super-Earth doesn't necessarily imply that a planet has to be in the 'Goldilocks' zone. Also, it doesn't have to have liquid water. Check on the referenced link; this planet goes around it's parent star in 18 hrs.

      May 9, 2012 at 4:33 pm |
  27. Tom Harwood

    what the fudge!

    May 9, 2012 at 2:26 pm |
  28. HenkV

    This planet was discovered just in time: our famous sun-tan lady needs a place to get a little darker tan.

    May 9, 2012 at 2:08 pm |
  29. Tinfoil man

    Wondering if any temperate zone exists between the boiling, tidally locked portion of the planet facing the sun, and the possible "frozen" or "kept warm because of the front, permanently dark backside.

    It would make for an interesting set of conditions. The part facing away would always be freezing, but due to the heat from the front, a zone may exist between them which is not so extreme. It would be shrouded in dark, and have potential for light. The life would be subject to high pressure as life on the bottom of our seafloor is, giving interesting ideas for possible life forms.

    May 9, 2012 at 2:05 pm |
    • Tinfoil man

      *Have potential for life

      The boiling atmosphere may chill and turn to ice, snow or rain on the backside.

      May 9, 2012 at 2:08 pm |
      • Tinfoil man

        Any ocean could act as an insulating layer... although the surface may be warmer as it is on earth, deeper down it could be colder. Only "colder" to them may not be freezing as our ocean floor is, it may be more temperate.

        We could be looking at deep sea organisms, able to survive incredible pressure, which don't need sight in the visible spectrum.

        The creature from the black lagoon is finally going to have his day (out of) the sun

        May 9, 2012 at 2:14 pm |
    • Kana

      inplying one side of the planet is light and the other is dark would mean it does not rotate as it travels around it's sun. Unless of course it is stationary. Even our own planet has a daily rotation along with an elliptical track around the sun.

      And how is 3,140 degrees Fahrenheit a habitable environment for humans?

      May 9, 2012 at 2:19 pm |
      • J Y

        Some planets and bodies have a rate of rotation that just happens to keep them "stationary" though, like our own moon. It's definitely possible that the planet generally always faces the same way.

        May 9, 2012 at 2:40 pm |
      • MarylandBill

        This planet orbits its sun in a very short period of time (less than 24 hours!). It is so close to its sun, that it will be subject to enormous tides, stronger than any planet in the solar system experience and probably greater than even Io which orbits Jupiter (I am sure they have calculated them, but I haven't, so I don't have the solid numbers). Tides like that would cause any planet to become tidally locked to its star in short order like the Moon (and indeed many other moons in the solar system) is locked to its planet.

        May 9, 2012 at 3:16 pm |
      • Amused

        Where exactly in the article does it say that 55 Cancri e is inhabitable by humans? I think you need to re-read the article...

        May 9, 2012 at 3:20 pm |
      • mekkka

        marylandbill- earth spins on its axis & does a full 360 within roughly 24 hours. earth orbits the sun within roughly 365 days.

        Kana- at these temperatures, the only form of matter in existence is sustainable through tremendous conditions, making the water liquid have a different boiling and evaporation point through atmospheric pressure. different pressure, different evaporating point, different adaptable atmosphere. it's adaptable because there's water, that's why water is a key focal point when searching other planets/structural masses for life or life bearing properties.

        May 9, 2012 at 8:59 pm |
    • n2video

      Tinfoilman, that condition of always having one side of the planet facing the sun is EXACTLY how Mercury, our closest planet to our sun is orbiting it. Want to know another interesting fact? The planet Neptune's north and south poles are actually on it's sides and it "rolls" along its orbital path around the sun, as if someone poked a stick in a a ball and rolled it along the floor. FACT...look it up at planetarysociety dot com

      May 9, 2012 at 4:01 pm |
  30. 4th wright

    Finally, a place for all our lawyers.

    May 9, 2012 at 1:57 pm |
    • HenkV


      May 9, 2012 at 2:10 pm |
    • One Way Ticket

      Maybe the politicians could hitch a ride too?

      May 9, 2012 at 4:04 pm |
      • M I Snow

        I thought they were one and the same...

        May 9, 2012 at 9:38 pm |
  31. Charles

    So, how is light coming directly from this planet again? If it actually emits light, that sounds like a star. Otherwise, it only reflects light (i.e. NOT "directly from").

    May 9, 2012 at 1:48 pm |
    • Cedar Rapids

      I think in this context they mean they detected the light being reflected from the planet rather than relying on wobble or dimming of parent star.

      May 9, 2012 at 1:53 pm |
    • Ryan

      Yes they mean the infrared light that all objects give off on their own (you know like heat for example).

      May 9, 2012 at 1:55 pm |
    • Deez

      I think the point is that it's detecting the light reflecting from it directly as opposed to seeing wobbles that are created as planets pass in front of a star. Yes, planets don't emit light, but that's not really the point.

      May 9, 2012 at 1:57 pm |
      • Ryan

        Everything emits light (electromagnetic radiation). In this case it just may not be the visible part as they were measuring the infrared spectrum.

        May 9, 2012 at 1:59 pm |
      • technicaltopics

        I think we are giving the author too much credit in thinking they meant IR radiation. It sure sounds like the author thought that visible light was being emitted by the planet.

        May 9, 2012 at 4:30 pm |
    • TomVIO

      41 years ago, someone on that planet accidentally flashed a high beam projector light.

      May 9, 2012 at 2:33 pm |
      • Al Gore

        Or mayber there was a light-speed trap up ahead.

        May 9, 2012 at 4:50 pm |
    • Chris

      It's emitting infrared light. Light is not just the visible light we humans see. The planet is emitting infrared light in the same way the blacktop heats up on a summer day. The solar visible light is being absorbed and re-emitted at a lower energy, the heat we feel.

      May 9, 2012 at 2:36 pm |
      • Science Nerd

        Actually last time I checked 3k degrees gives off visible light. A regular light bulb is only around 4k. At 3k it would just be more orange.

        May 9, 2012 at 4:08 pm |
  32. DBW

    steam me up Scotty

    May 9, 2012 at 1:41 pm |
    • Cedar Rapids

      not bad.

      May 9, 2012 at 1:43 pm |
  33. Architect Adam

    How can there be liquid water if the temperature is over 3,000 degrees? Only liquid water on the side not facing the sun?

    May 9, 2012 at 1:37 pm |
    • Will

      High atmospheric pressure.

      May 9, 2012 at 1:48 pm |
    • BeerBrewerDan


      It's the only thing I remember from my one semester of chemistry all those years ago and I think it applies here.

      May 9, 2012 at 1:55 pm |
    • Chris

      The temp and pressure are so high the water actually exists as a supercritical fluid. Think of a gas compressed so much that its density is the same as the liquid. Actually liquid and gas are meaningless under these conditions, the only proper term is supercritical fluid.

      May 9, 2012 at 2:39 pm |
    • sharoom

      Yes remember PV=nRT.

      Temperature of water evaporation (boiling point) is dependent on the atmospheric pressure. When the pressure goes down the boiling point also goes down. This is why it's harder to cook an egg on a mountain in boiling water. On the flip side, a pressure cooker works by pressuring the water inside so that it can superheat beyond 100 degrees C at sea level without turning into steam.

      May 9, 2012 at 7:36 pm |
  34. Cedar Rapids

    wonder how long before the first post claiming this to be a waste of money and/or fake news in order to gain funding.

    May 9, 2012 at 1:31 pm |
    • Cedar Rapids

      dang, the first one arrived while i was typing mine

      May 9, 2012 at 1:32 pm |
    • johnP

      But you thought it first!

      May 9, 2012 at 2:02 pm |
  35. todd in DC

    But how is this super Earth's economy?

    May 9, 2012 at 1:30 pm |
  36. Steve Jobs

    i live here now!

    May 9, 2012 at 1:22 pm |


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