Thursday, February 19, 2015

Can we Figure out the Internal Structure of Rocky Exoplanets From Their Mass and Radius?

Can we constrain interior structure of rocky exoplanets from mass and radius measurements?


Dorn et al


We present an inversion method based on Bayesian analysis to constrain the interior structure of terrestrial exoplanets, in the form of chemical composition of the mantle and core size. Specifically, we identify what parts of the interior structure of terrestrial exoplanets can be determined from observations of mass, radius, and stellar elemental abundances. We perform a full probabilistic inverse analysis to formally account for observational and model uncertainties and obtain confidence regions of interior structure models. This enables us to characterize how model variability depends on data and associated uncertainties. We test our method on terrestrial solar system planets and find that our model predictions are consistent with independent estimates. Furthermore, we apply our method to synthetic exoplanets up to 10 Earth masses and up to 1.7 Earth radii as well as to exoplanet Kepler-36b. Importantly, the inversion strategy proposed here provides a framework for understanding the level of precision required to characterize the interior of exoplanets. Our main conclusions are: (1) observations of mass and radius are sufficient to constrain core size; (2) stellar elemental abundances (Fe, Si, Mg) are key constraints to reduce degeneracy in interior structure models and to constrain mantle composition; (3) the inherent degeneracy in determining interior structure from mass and radius observations does not only depend on measurement accuracies but also on the actual size and density of the exoplanet. We argue that precise observations of stellar elemental abundances are central in order to place constraints on planetary bulk composition and to reduce model degeneracy. We provide a general methodology of analyzing interior structures of exoplanets that may help to understand how interior models are distributed among star systems. The methodology we propose is sufficiently general to allow its future extension to more complex internal structure
including hydrogen- and water-rich exoplanets.

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