A ground based telescope on the island of La Palma, Spain has spotted a Super-Earth almost twice the size of our own planet. This exoplanet called 55 Cancri e is situated 41 light years away from us. The exoplanet will be seen passing in between its sun and our planet for the first time with the help of a moderately powered telescope which is, by today’s standards, a small one and not technically loaded as compared to the modern day space-borne observatories.

The huge planet is nearly eight times the size of our planet, and revolves around its own sun, much like our planet does around the center of our universe. However, the conditions prevailing thereon do not make it look hospitable or capable of supporting life. Its day time temperature can go well beyond 3,000 degrees Fahrenheit, since it is the innermost planet in its solar system. A position similar to that of Mercury in our system.

An Artist’s concept of the planet 55 Cancri e

What makes this spotting remarkable is the fact that scientists have done so with the help of a terrestrial, optical telescope, “and it proves that telescope technology continues to progress to never before seen levels. This bodes well for the two new space telescopes planned by both NASA and the European Space Agency.”

Study leader Dr. Ernst de Mooij of the Queen’s University in Belfast, Northern Ireland said, “Our observations show that we can detect the transits of small planets around the Sun-like stars using ground-based telescopes. This is especially important because upcoming space missions such as TESS and PLATO should find many small planets around bright stars.”

NASA’s Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) is scheduled for a 2017 launch and will endeavor orbiting alien suns outside our solar system while the ESA project PLAnetary Transits and Oscillations of stars (PLATO) shall aim to find out more known planets outside the solar system.

Co-author Professor Ray Jayawardhana, of Canada’s York University, said: “It’s remarkable what we can do by pushing the limits of existing telescopes and instruments, despite the complications posed by the Earth’s own turbulent atmosphere.
“Observations like these are paving the way as we strive towards searching for signs of life on alien planets from afar. Remote sensing across tens of light-years isn’t easy, but it can be done with the right technique and a bit of ingenuity.”

A distance of 41 light years is considered to be like a-neighborhood in celestial terms. Inspite of that, the 55 Cancri is barely visible to the naked eye under very dark skies. Encouraged by this spotting of a new Super Earth, the scientific community is now closing in on the possibility of detecting the atmospheres of more smaller planets in the vicinity of our Earth with the help of ground based telescopes.

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