First light from a super-Earth spotted

Scientists on a planetary-heat-seeking mission have detected the first infrared light from a super-Earth — in this case, a planet some 40 light-years away. And according to their calculations, 55 Cancri e, a planet just over twice the size of Earth, is throwing off some serious heat.

At a toasty 3,700 degrees Fahrenheit, the planet is hot enough to liquefy steel. And there’s not much relief from the scorching heat: Researchers at MIT and other institutions say the planet may lack reflective surfaces such as ice caps, instead absorbing most of the heat from its parent star — much as Earth’s dark oceans trap heat from the sun.

Data from the Spitzer Space Telescope reveals that 55 Cancri e is very dark, and that its sun-facing side is blistering hot. Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech

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