"It is a little bit like a Tiramisu or a Capuccino," says Luca Pasquini from ESO, lead-author of the paper reporting the results. "There is cocoa powder only on the top!'
Just a few years after the discovery of the first exoplanet it became evident that planets are preferentially found around stars that are enriched in iron. Planet-hosting stars are on average almost twice as rich in metals than their counterparts with no planetary system.
The immediate question is whether this richness in metals enhances planet formation, or whether it is caused by the presence of planets. The classic chicken and egg problem. In the first case, the stars would be metal-rich down to their centre. In the second case, debris from the planetary system would have polluted the star and only the external layers would be affected by this pollution.
When observing stars and taking spectra, astronomers indeed only see the outer layers and can't make sure the whole star has the same composition. When planetary debris fall onto a star, the material will stay in the outer parts, polluting it and leaving traces in the spectra taken.
A team of astronomers has decided to tackle this question by looking at a different kind of stars: red giants. These are stars that, as will the Sun in several billion years, have exhausted the hydrogen in their core. As a result, they have puffed up, becoming much larger and cooler.
Looking at the distribution of metals in fourteen planet-hosting giants, the astronomers found that their distribution was rather different from normal planet-hosting stars.
"We find that evolved stars are not enriched in metals, even when hosting planets," says Pasquini. "Thus, the anomalies found in planet-hosting stars seem to disappear when they get older and puff up!"
Looking at the various options, the astronomers conclude that the most likely explanation lies in the difference in the structure between red giants and solar-like stars: the size of the convective zone, the region where all the gas is completely mixed. In the Sun, this convective zone comprises only 2% of the star's mass. But in red giants, the convective zone is huge, encompassing 35 times more mass. The polluting material would thus be 35 times more diluted in a red giant than in a solar-like star.
"Although the interpretation of the data is not straightforward, the simplest explanation is that solar-like stars appear metal-rich because of the pollution of their atmospheres," says co-author Artie Hatzes, Director of the Thüringer Landessternwarte Tautenburg (Germany) where some of the data were obtained.
When the star was still surrounded by a proto-planetary disc, material enriched in more heavy elements would fall onto the star, thereby polluting its surface. The metal excess produced by this pollution, while visible in the thin atmospheres of solar-like stars, is completely diluted in the extended, massive atmospheres of the giants.
Henri Boffin | alfa
Gamma rays will reach beyond the limits of light
23.10.2017 | Chalmers University of Technology
Creation of coherent states in molecules by incoherent electrons
23.10.2017 | Tata Institute of Fundamental Research
Salmonellae are dangerous pathogens that enter the body via contaminated food and can cause severe infections. But these bacteria are also known to target...
University of Maryland researchers contribute to historic detection of gravitational waves and light created by event
On August 17, 2017, at 12:41:04 UTC, scientists made the first direct observation of a merger between two neutron stars--the dense, collapsed cores that remain...
Seven new papers describe the first-ever detection of light from a gravitational wave source. The event, caused by two neutron stars colliding and merging together, was dubbed GW170817 because it sent ripples through space-time that reached Earth on 2017 August 17. Around the world, hundreds of excited astronomers mobilized quickly and were able to observe the event using numerous telescopes, providing a wealth of new data.
Previous detections of gravitational waves have all involved the merger of two black holes, a feat that won the 2017 Nobel Prize in Physics earlier this month....
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...
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...
23.10.2017 | Event News
17.10.2017 | Event News
10.10.2017 | Event News
23.10.2017 | Life Sciences
23.10.2017 | Physics and Astronomy
23.10.2017 | Health and Medicine