The James Webb Space Telescope is set to investigate two strange planets scientists refer to as “super-earths.” One of them even has rainstorms of molten lava.
It was once a pipe dream to study a planet from 50 light-years away, but that’s exactly the mission for the James Webb. Both planets are rocky like our own, making them much harder to spot among gas giants. According to the Scientific American, “Webb’s powerful mirror and deep-space location should allow it to examine two planets slightly larger than Earth, known as ‘super-Earths.'”
One of the planets circles its star every 18 hours and has a “blast furnace surface.” The planet is likely tidally locked, meaning one side always faces the sun. This causes rock to evaporate and form clouds of stone that travel to the cool side of the planet and produce scattered nighttime thunderstorms of molten lava. Why am I imagining two space wizards with laser swords fighting on a floating beam? In all seriousness it sounds like something straight out of science fiction. But this is science fact.
This hellscape planet is known as 55 Cancri e and is about twice our planet’s size. Scientists will study its rotation, mineral composition, and just how many other secrets this wild Excalbia look-alike holds. I don’t know about you, but I’m certainly excited to learn more about this sizzling winter get-away.
The other planet remains rather mysterious. We don’t know much about it yet other than that it lacks an atmosphere and contains several elements scientists are curious to study.
The James Webb Telescope is only capable of reaching these distances because of remarkable telescopic technology. It wasn’t even that long ago that we would have missed these rocky planets entirely due to their brighter and bigger gas giant neighbors. It’s intriguing to see what comes next as these technologies evolve even further.