Astronomers have been puzzled by Earth's water deficiency. The standard model explaining how the solar system formed from a protoplanetary disk, a swirling disk of gas and dust surrounding our Sun, billions of years ago, suggests that our planet should be a water world.
Illustrtation: NASA, ESA, and A. Feild (STScI); Science: NASA, ESA, and R. Martin and M. Livio (STScI)
A Tale of Two Disk Models This illustration of two different disk models shows overhead views of the structure of the protoplanetary disk that encircled the newborn Sun 4.6 billion years ago. The Sun's family of planets agglomerated from dust and ices within the disk. The major difference between the two models is the location of the so-called snow line, which divides a warm, dry area of the disk from an icy, turbulent region. In the standard disk model, shown at left, Earth formed beyond the snow line, in an icy region. Our planet should, therefore, contain lots of water because it formed from ices that would have been a major fraction of its composition. However, it's estimated that less than 1 percent of Earth's mass is locked up in water, which has puzzled scientists. In the new disk model, shown at right, Earth formed in a warmer, dry region, outside the snow line, which is much farther away from the Sun. This model explains why Earth is comparatively dry. It provides new insights into estimates of the abundance of Earth-like planets in the galaxy.
Earth should have formed from icy material in a zone around the Sun where temperatures were cold enough for ices to condense out of the disk. Therefore, Earth should have formed from material rich in water. So why is our planet comparatively dry?
A new analysis of the common accretion-disk model explaining how planets form in a debris disk around our Sun uncovered a possible reason for Earth's comparative dryness. Led by Rebecca Martin and Mario Livio of the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, Md., the study found that our planet formed from rocky debris in a dry, hotter region, inside of the so-called "snow line." The snow line in our solar system currently lies in the middle of the asteroid belt, a reservoir of rubble between Mars and Jupiter; beyond this point, the Sun's light is too weak to melt the icy debris left over from the protoplanetary disk. Previous accretion-disk models suggested that the snow line was much closer to the Sun 4.5 billion years ago, when Earth formed.
"Unlike the standard accretion-disk model, the snow line in our analysis never migrates inside Earth's orbit," Livio said. "Instead, it remains farther from the Sun than the orbit of Earth, which explains why our Earth is a dry planet. In fact, our model predicts that the other innermost planets, Mercury, Venus, and Mars, are also relatively dry. "
The results have been accepted for publication in the journal Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.
In the conventional model, the protoplanetary disk around our Sun is fully ionized (process where electrons are stripped off of atoms) and is funneling material onto our star, which heats up the disk. The snow line is initially far away from the star, perhaps at least one billion miles. Over time, the disk runs out of material, cools, and draws the snow line inward, past Earth's orbit, before there is sufficient time for Earth to form.
"If the snow line was inside Earth's orbit when our planet formed, then it should have been an icy body," Martin explained. "Planets such as Uranus and Neptune that formed beyond the snow line are composed of tens of percents of water. But Earth doesn't have much water, and that has always been a puzzle."
Martin and Livio's study found a problem with the standard accretion-disk model for the evolution of the snow line. "We said, wait a second, disks around young stars are not fully ionized," Livio said. "They're not standard disks because there just isn't enough heat and radiation to ionize the disk."
"Very hot objects such as white dwarfs and X-ray sources release enough energy to ionize their accretion disks," Martin added. "But young stars don't have enough radiation or enough infalling material to provide the necessary energetic punch to ionize the disks."
So, if the disks aren't ionized, mechanisms that would allow material to flow through the region and fall onto the star are absent. Instead, gas and dust orbit around the star without moving inward, creating a so-called "dead zone" in the disk. The dead zone typically extends from about 0.1 astronomical unit to a few astronomical units beyond the star. (An astronomical unit is the distance between Earth and the Sun, which is roughly 93 million miles.) This zone acts like a plug, preventing matter from migrating towards the star. Material, however, piles up in the dead zone and increases its density, much like people crowding around the entrance to a concert, waiting for the gates to open.
The dense matter begins to heat up by gravitational compression. This process, in turn, heats the area outside the plug, vaporizing the icy material and turning it into dry matter. Earth forms in this hotter region, which extends to around a few astronomical units beyond the Sun, from the dry material. Martin and Livio's altered version of the standard model explains why Earth didn't wind up with an abundance of water.
Martin cautioned that the revised model is not a blueprint for how all disks around young stars behave. "Conditions within the disk will vary from star to star," Livio said, "and chance, as much as anything else, determined the precise end results for our Earth."
For illustrations and more information about this study, visit:
The Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI) in Baltimore, Md., is operated for NASA by the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy, Inc., (AURA) in Washington, D.C. STScI conducts science operations for the Hubble Space Telescope and is the science and mission operations center for the James Webb Space Telescope.
Ray Villard | Newswise Science News
New Study Will Help Find the Best Locations for Thermal Power Stations in Iceland
19.01.2017 | University of Gothenburg
Water - as the underlying driver of the Earth’s carbon cycle
17.01.2017 | Max-Planck-Institut für Biogeochemie
An important step towards a completely new experimental access to quantum physics has been made at University of Konstanz. The team of scientists headed by...
Yersiniae cause severe intestinal infections. Studies using Yersinia pseudotuberculosis as a model organism aim to elucidate the infection mechanisms of these...
Researchers from the University of Hamburg in Germany, in collaboration with colleagues from the University of Aarhus in Denmark, have synthesized a new superconducting material by growing a few layers of an antiferromagnetic transition-metal chalcogenide on a bismuth-based topological insulator, both being non-superconducting materials.
While superconductivity and magnetism are generally believed to be mutually exclusive, surprisingly, in this new material, superconducting correlations...
Laser-driving of semimetals allows creating novel quasiparticle states within condensed matter systems and switching between different states on ultrafast time scales
Studying properties of fundamental particles in condensed matter systems is a promising approach to quantum field theory. Quasiparticles offer the opportunity...
Among the general public, solar thermal energy is currently associated with dark blue, rectangular collectors on building roofs. Technologies are needed for aesthetically high quality architecture which offer the architect more room for manoeuvre when it comes to low- and plus-energy buildings. With the “ArKol” project, researchers at Fraunhofer ISE together with partners are currently developing two façade collectors for solar thermal energy generation, which permit a high degree of design flexibility: a strip collector for opaque façade sections and a solar thermal blind for transparent sections. The current state of the two developments will be presented at the BAU 2017 trade fair.
As part of the “ArKol – development of architecturally highly integrated façade collectors with heat pipes” project, Fraunhofer ISE together with its partners...
19.01.2017 | Event News
10.01.2017 | Event News
09.01.2017 | Event News
20.01.2017 | Awards Funding
20.01.2017 | Materials Sciences
20.01.2017 | Life Sciences