If hell was a planet, it might be this place. New analysis of 55 Cancri e, an exoplanet just 41 light-years from Earth, has revealed a nightmarish world that has one half covered in lava and another half shrouded in perpetual night.
The planet made headlines after its discovery back in 2011 amid speculation that it was made up mostly of carbon, meaning it might be a diamond world.
So much for that fancy notion. Instead of a place for romance, 55 Cancri e is an infernal, two-faced planet that orbits so close to its parent star that its surface reaches temperatures as high as 4,530°F. It's also a tidally-locked world, meaning that the same hemisphere faces the star at all times, so there's no reprieve from the heat. Researchers used observations from NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope to create the temperature map of the planet.
While one half of the world is molten, the other half sits in constant, terrifying darkness. The dark side is much cooler, but hardly habitable, coming in at a still-scorching 2,010°F. To make matters worse, the atmosphere on the dark side is poisonous, with a high concentration of cyanide. You're damned on either side of this hellacious world.
Strangely, the new analysis of 55 Cancri e found that it was actually hotter there than it should be, given what we know about the stellar irradiation the planet receives. In other words, the world must have an unknown source of heat coming from within. Perhaps there's a devil living in its core.
“We haven’t yet found any other planet that is this small and orbits so close to its parent star, and is relatively close to us, so 55 Cancri e offers lots of possibilities,” said Dr. Brice-Olivier Demory, the paper’s lead author. “We still don’t know exactly what this planet is made of – it’s still a riddle. These results are like adding another brick to the wall, but the exact nature of this planet is still not completely understood.”
A short video below shows what 55 Cancri e might look like if you were to orbit it in a spacecraft: