Monday, February 24, 2014

Planetary Formation Influences on Mini Neptunes and Super Earths

Mass-Radius Relations and Core-Envelope Decompositions of Super-Earths and Sub-Neptunes


Howe et al


Many exoplanets have been discovered with radii of 1-4 Earth radii, between that of Earth and Neptune. A number of these are known to have densities consistent with solid compositions, while others are "sub-Neptunes" likely to have significant hydrogen-helium envelopes. Future surveys will no doubt significantly expand these populations. In order to understand how the measured masses and radii of such planets can inform their structures and compositions, we construct models both for solid layered planets and for planets with solid cores and gaseous envelopes, exploring a range of core masses, hydrogen-helium envelope masses, and associated envelope entropies. For planets in the super-Earth/sub-Neptune regime for which both radius and mass are measured, we estimate how each is partitioned into a solid core and gaseous envelope, associating a specific core mass and envelope mass with a given exoplanet. We perform this decomposition for both "Earth-like" rock-iron cores and pure ice cores, and find that the necessary gaseous envelope masses for this important sub-class of exoplanets must range very widely from zero to many Earth masses, even for a given core mass. This result bears importantly on exoplanet formation and envelope evaporation processes.

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