09/05/2012 06:25 BST | Updated 09/05/2012 06:33 BST

Nasa Spots First Light From An Alien 'Super Earth' - VIDEO

Nasa has detected infrared light streaming from a "Super Earth" marking a huge leap in the discovery of life on other planets.

Nasa's Spitzer space telescope made the discovery on the uninhabitable planet called 55 Cancri e.

Bill Danchi, Spitzer program scientist at Nasa Headquarters in Washington, said. "Spitzer has amazed us yet again. The spacecraft is pioneering the study of atmospheres of distant planets and paving the way for Nasa's upcoming James Webb Space Telescope to apply a similar technique on potentially habitable planets."

55 Cancri e is unihabitable for one very good reason - the side of the planet that faces its sun is 2,000 Kelvin, more than hot enough to melt metal. The other side faces away from its sun permanently, due to its tidal pull.

MIT researchers think that it could be so hot because it lacks heat-reflective surfaces like ice caps, and instead soaks up all the heat from its sun.


The planet is part of a five-planet system, is around eight times as massive as Earth, orbits its star - 55 Cancri - in just 18 hours, and could be a water world with a rocky core surrounded by liquid and gas water and steam.

The planet was first discovered in 2004, and the new findings are published in the current issue of Astrophysical Journal Letters.

The Spitzer space telescope has outlived its expected lifespan, making the recent discovery more remarkable. The infrared space observatory launched in 2003, with a two and a half year mission. It ran out of the liquid helium that cools its instruments in 2009, however the infrared array camera powers on.

Phil Armitage, an associate professor of astrophysics at the University of Colorado, told MIT News that the discovery is: "a great example of really pushing an instrument to its limits."


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