Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Interiors of extrasolar planets: A first step

30.05.2006


Up to now, astronomers have discovered 188 extrasolar planets, among which 10 are known as “transiting planets&rdquo. These planets pass between their star and us at each orbit (Figure 1). Given the current technical limitations, the only transiting planets that can be detected are giant planets orbiting close to their parent star known as “hot Jupiters” or Pegasids. The ten transiting planets known thus far have masses between 110 and 430 Earth masses (for comparison, Jupiter, with 318 Earth masses, is the most massive planet in our Solar System).



Although rare, transiting planets are the key to understanding planetary formation because they are the only ones for which both the mass and radius can be determined. In principle, the obtained mean density can constrain their global composition. However, translating a mean density into a global composition needs accurate models of the internal structure and evolution of planets. The situation is made difficult by our relatively poor knowledge of the behaviour of matter at high pressures (the pressure in the interiors of giant planets is more than a million times the atmospheric pressure on Earth). Of the nine transiting planets known up to April 2006, only the least massive one could have its global composition determined satisfactorily. It was shown to possess a massive core of heavy elements, about 70 times the mass of the Earth, with a 40 Earth-mass envelope of hydrogen and helium. Of the remaining eight planets, six were found to be mostly made up of hydrogen and helium, like Jupiter and Saturn, but their core mass could not be determined. The last two were found to be too large to be explained by simple models.

Considering them as an ensemble for the first time, and accounting for the anomalously large planets, Tristan Guillot and his team [1] found that the nine transiting planets have homogeneous properties, with a core mass ranging from 0 (no core, or a small one) up to 100 times the mass of the Earth, and a surrounding envelope of hydrogen and helium. Some of the Pegasids should therefore contain larger amounts of heavy elements than expected. When comparing the mass of heavy elements in the Pegasids to the metallicity of the parent stars, they also found a correlation to exist, with planets born around stars that are as metal-rich as our Sun and that have small cores, while planets orbiting stars that contain two to three times more metals have much larger cores, as shown in Figure 2. Their results will be published in Astronomy & Astrophysics.


Planet formation models have failed to predict the large amounts of heavy elements found this way in many planets, so these results imply that they need revising. The correlation between stellar and planetary composition has to be confirmed by further discoveries of transiting planets, but this work is a first step in studying the physical nature of extrasolar planets and their formation. It would explain why transiting planets are so hard to find, to start with. Because most Pegasids have relatively large cores, they are smaller than expected and more difficult to detect in transit in front of their stars. In any case, this is very promising for the CNES space mission COROT to be launched in October, which should discover and lead to characterization of tens of transiting planets, including smaller planets and planets orbiting too far from their star to be detected from the ground.

What of the tenth transiting planet? XO-1b was announced very recently (see NASA press release) and is also found to be an anomalously large planet orbiting a star of solar metallicity. Models imply that it has a very small core, so that this new discovery strengthens the proposed stellar-planetary metallicity correlation.

Jennifer Martin | alfa
Further information:
http://www.edpsciences.org/journal/index.cfm?edpsname=aa&niv1=others&niv2=press_release&niv3=PRaa200611

More articles from Physics and Astronomy:

nachricht Predictions by GSI scientists now confirmed: Heavy elements in neutron star mergers detected
17.10.2017 | GSI Helmholtzzentrum für Schwerionenforschung GmbH

nachricht ‘Find the Lady’ in the quantum world
17.10.2017 | Rheinische Friedrich-Wilhelms-Universität Bonn

All articles from Physics and Astronomy >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Smart sensors for efficient processes

Material defects in end products can quickly result in failures in many areas of industry, and have a massive impact on the safe use of their products. This is why, in the field of quality assurance, intelligent, nondestructive sensor systems play a key role. They allow testing components and parts in a rapid and cost-efficient manner without destroying the actual product or changing its surface. Experts from the Fraunhofer IZFP in Saarbrücken will be presenting two exhibits at the Blechexpo in Stuttgart from 7–10 November 2017 that allow fast, reliable, and automated characterization of materials and detection of defects (Hall 5, Booth 5306).

When quality testing uses time-consuming destructive test methods, it can result in enormous costs due to damaging or destroying the products. And given that...

Im Focus: Cold molecules on collision course

Using a new cooling technique MPQ scientists succeed at observing collisions in a dense beam of cold and slow dipolar molecules.

How do chemical reactions proceed at extremely low temperatures? The answer requires the investigation of molecular samples that are cold, dense, and slow at...

Im Focus: Shrinking the proton again!

Scientists from the Max Planck Institute of Quantum Optics, using high precision laser spectroscopy of atomic hydrogen, confirm the surprisingly small value of the proton radius determined from muonic hydrogen.

It was one of the breakthroughs of the year 2010: Laser spectroscopy of muonic hydrogen resulted in a value for the proton charge radius that was significantly...

Im Focus: New nanomaterial can extract hydrogen fuel from seawater

Hybrid material converts more sunlight and can weather seawater's harsh conditions

It's possible to produce hydrogen to power fuel cells by extracting the gas from seawater, but the electricity required to do it makes the process costly. UCF...

Im Focus: Small collisions make big impact on Mercury's thin atmosphere

Mercury, our smallest planetary neighbor, has very little to call an atmosphere, but it does have a strange weather pattern: morning micro-meteor showers.

Recent modeling along with previously published results from NASA's MESSENGER spacecraft -- short for Mercury Surface, Space Environment, Geochemistry and...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

ASEAN Member States discuss the future role of renewable energy

17.10.2017 | Event News

World Health Summit 2017: International experts set the course for the future of Global Health

10.10.2017 | Event News

Climate Engineering Conference 2017 Opens in Berlin

10.10.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Taking screening methods to the next level

17.10.2017 | Life Sciences

ASEAN Member States discuss the future role of renewable energy

17.10.2017 | Event News

‘Find the Lady’ in the quantum world

17.10.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>