Volcanic Eruptions On The Super-Earth Diamond Planet

It would appear that a planet-sized eruption of volcanic heat has occurred over the course of several years on the planet super-Earth 55 Cancri e. There a very hot, very life-unfriendly environment is boiling, and a series of researchers at Cornell University are bringing back information on how extreme this volcanism truly is. These researcher astronomers have used data from NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope, finding a 3x change in temperature over the course of 2 years on the planet. It's getting very hot there, very fast.

To be clear, this "Diamond Planet" is not the same as the space body PSR J2222-0137 Earth-sized diamond widely reported back in June of 2014. This planetary hunk is twice the size of Earth and very carbon-rich.

It's thought that this planet is covered in hydrocarbons.

It was previously thought that this planet could possibly be hospitable to humans.

The image you see above comes from NASA/JPL-CALTECH/R. HURT and shows an artist's impression of 55 Cancri e during and after major volcanic activity.

"When we first identified this planet, the measurements supported a carbon-rich model," said Nikku Madhusudhan, one of several researchers responsible for the paper appearing this week on the subject.

"But now we're finding that those measurements are changing in time. The planet could still be carbon rich, but now we're not so sure – earlier studies of this planet have even suggested that it could be a water world."

Exoplanet 55 Cancri e is called Diamond Planet by exoplanet enthusiasts and exoplanet hunters.

Dramatic changes in light have been observed on this exoplanet, a first for such a so-called "super-Earth."

These changes in light over a 2-year period have moved between 1000 and 2700 degrees Celsius.

Above you'll see transit data from the planet. Occulation lightcurves – Spitzer/IRAC 4.5-µm 2013 transit data – is normalized and pinned. Those little TIE Fighters are normalized data points.

Above is 2013, below is 2012.

Flux in lightcurves is higher in 2013 than it is in 2012, showing how wild the planet is getting (temperature-wise) over the course of one year.

The team uses a modified implementation of the BLISS (BiLinearly-Interpolated Subpixel Sensitivity) method of intra-pixel sensitivity, also including this in the Markov Chain Monte Carlo (MCMC) method implementation.

Does this mean it could happen on our own Earth? Not necessarily. 55 Cancri e is 8-times our Earth's mass and twice its size – it's also 40 light-years away, living currently in the constellation Cancer.

"The present variability is something we've never seen anywhere else," said Madhusudhan "so there's no robust conventional explanation."

"But that's the fun in science – clues can come from unexpected quarters."

More can be found in the paper "Variability in the super-Earth 55 Cnc e", arXiv:1505.00269 [astro-ph.EP] via Cornell University Library at arXiv.org. This paper was researched and written by Brice-Olivier Demory, Michael Gillon, Nikku Madhusudhan, and Didier Queloz, and was submitted to MNRAS on 10 March 2015.