New Delhi: Scientists have created the first temperature map of an exoplanet - a rocky planet nearly two times as big as ours.
The map of super-Earth 55 Cancri e was created using temperature data from NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope. The map reveals a two-faced world, which means one side of the planet is much hotter than the other - which could be explained by a possible presence of lava pools.
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"Our view of this planet keeps evolving," said Brice Olivier Demory of the University of Cambridge, England, lead author of a new report appearing in the March 30 issue of the journal Nature.
The new observations from Spitzer also provide the most detailed 'fingerprint' of 55 Cancri e - thanks to the telescope’s increased sensitivity to exoplanets.
Spitzer stared at the planet with its infrared vision for a total of 80 hours, watching it orbit all the way around its star multiple times and allowing scientists to map temperature changes across the entire planet using its data.
Surprisingly, scientists found that the hottest side of the exoplanet is nearly 4,400 degrees Fahrenheit (2,700 Kelvin), and the coolest is 2,060 degrees Fahrenheit (1,400 Kelvin) - a dramatic temperature difference of 2,340 degrees Fahrenheit (1,300 Kelvin) from one side of the planet to the other.
The fact Spitzer found the night side to be significantly colder than the day side means heat is not being distributed around the planet very well.
"The day side could possibly have rivers of lava and big pools of extremely hot magma, but we think the night side would have solidified lava flows like those found in Hawaii," said Michael Gillon, University of Liège, Belgium.
Scientists said additional observations, including from NASA's upcoming James Webb Space Telescope, will help to confirm the true nature of 55 Cancri e.