Tag Archives: super-Earths

Exoplanet formation scenarios

Here’s a nice graphic by Sean Raymond illustrating different scenarios for the formation of exoplanetary systems, one leading to “Super-Earths” and the other to gas giants. The work is explained more fully on arXiv.

The paper’s figure caption includes:

Left: Evolution of the “breaking the chains” migration model for the origin of super-Earths. Embryos within the snow line are entirely rocky and much smaller than those that form past the snow line, which also incorporate ice. Presumably ice-rich embryos migrate inward through the rocky material, catalyzing the growth of purely rocky planets interior to the ice-rich ones. Planets migrate into long chains of mean motion resonances, with the innermost planet at the inner edge of the disk. The vast majority (90–95%) of resonant chains become unstable when the gas disk dissipates. The resulting planets match the distributions of known super-Earths.

Right: Evolution of the planet-planet scattering model for the origin of giant exoplanets. Several embryos grow quickly enough to accrete gas and grow into gas giants. They subsequently migrate into a resonant chain without drastically affecting the orbits of nearby growing rocky planets (or outer planetesimal disks). After the disk dissipates, the vast majority (75–90%) of giant planets systems become unstable. The resulting systems match the correlated mass-eccentricity distribution of known giant exoplanets.

Sapphires and Rubies in the Sky

The Universities of Cambridge and Zurich have put out a press release about a study led by Caroline Dorn. The work discusses how planets form out of proto-planetary discs, and proposes that some planets would form at high temperatures out of condensates rich in Calcium and Aluminium. Their cores could thus effectively be giant rubies or sapphires (different forms of aluminium oxide).

Planets forming at different distances from their star will form at different temperatures, where different minerals will condense out.

Dorn et al suggest that the three planets HD219134 b, 55 Cancri e and WASP-47 e likely to be such objects. “In our calculations we found that these planets have 10-20% lower densities than the Earth”, says Caroline Dorn. The authors suggest that this is because they are rich in Calcium and Aluminium whereas other rocky planets have Iron-rich cores.

A depiction of 55 Cnc e (credit: Thibaut Roger)

“So, we have found three candidates that belong to a new class of super-Earths with this exotic composition,” says Dorn, adding that: “What is exciting is that these objects are completely different from the majority of Earth-like planets, if they actually exist.”

Take up of the press release has included the International Business Times, India Today, Popular Science, First Post, Sputnik News, ZME Science and other websites.

Four planets around WASP-47!

As NASA’s Kepler mission covers fields in the ecliptic previously surveyed by WASP, it is obtaining photometry of unprecedented quality on some WASP planets. The big news this week is the discovery of two more transiting planets in the WASP-47 system.

WASP-47 had seemed to be a relatively routine hot-Jupiter system with the discovery of a Jupiter-sized planet in a 4-day orbit, reported in a batch of transiting planets from WASP-South by Hellier et al 2012.

But WASP-47 is anything but routine. Now Becker et al have announced that the Kepler K2 lightcurves show two more transiting planets: a super-Earth planet in an orbit of only 0.79 days, and a Neptune-sized planet in an orbit of 9.0 days. Being much smaller, these planets cause transits that are too shallow to have been seen in the original WASP data.

WASP-47 transits with Kepler K2

The super-Earth, labelled WASP-47c, has a radius of 1.8 Earths while the Neptune, labelled WASP-47d, has a radius of 3.6 Earths. The triple-planet system is dynamically stable, but the gravitational interaction causes perturbations in the orbits, leading to variations in the times of the transits.

Such “transit-timing variations” or TTVs lead to estimates of the planetary masses. Becker et al find that the hot Jupiter has a mass of 340 Earths (consistent with the mass of 360 Earths originally reported by Hellier et al from radial-velocity measurements), while the Neptune has a mass of 9 Earths. The super-Earth must be less massive than that, but current timing measurements are not sensitive enough to say more.

WASP-47 TTVs Transit timing variations

As if three planets were not enough, there is a probable fourth planet orbiting WASP-47. The Geneva Observatory group routinely monitor known WASP systems, taking radial-velocity measurements over years, to look for longer-period planets. Marion Neveu-VanMalle and colleagues have recently reported the detection of another Jupiter-mass planet orbiting WASP-47, this time in a much wider orbit of 571 days.

The WASP-47 system has now become hugely interesting for understanding exoplanets, and will trigger many additional observations of the system. For example, being bright enough to allow good radial-velocity data, it will provide a much-needed check that the mass estimates from TTVs match those from the more traditional radial-velocity technique.

The system will also be of strong interest to theorists, who will want to understand the formation and origin of a planetary system with this architecture. One immediate consequence is that it shows that a hot Jupiter can arise by inward migration through the proto-planetary disk, without destroying all other planets in its path.