Sunday, July 10, 2016

Carbon to oxygen ratios in extrasolar planetesimals

Carbon to oxygen ratios in extrasolar planetesimals


Wilson et al


Observations of small extrasolar planets with a wide range of densities imply a variety of planetary compositions and structures. Currently, the only technique to measure the bulk composition of extrasolar planetary systems is the analysis of planetary debris accreting onto white dwarfs, analogous to abundance studies of meteorites. We present measurements of the carbon and oxygen abundances in the debris of planetesimals at ten white dwarfs observed with the Hubble Space Telescope, along with C/O ratios of debris in six systems with previously reported abundances. We find no evidence for carbon-rich planetesimals, with C/O less than 0.8 by number in all 16 systems. Our results place an upper limit on the occurrence of carbon-rich systems at less than 17 percent with a 2 sigma confidence level. The range of C/O of the planetesimals is consistent with that found in the Solar System, and appears to follow a bimodal distribution: a group similar to the CI chondrites, with log(less than C/O greater than)=-0.92, and oxygen-rich objects with C/O less than or equal to that of the bulk Earth. The latter group may have a higher mass fraction of water than the Earth, increasing their relative oxygen abundance.

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