Monday, March 23, 2015

alpha Centauri B b is a Terrestrial Exoplanet Twice as Dense as Earth

What is the mass of alpha Cen B b?


Plavchan et al


We investigate the possibility of constraining the sin i degeneracy of alpha Cen B b -- with orbital period P=3.24 d; a = 0.042 AU; msini = 1.1 M_earth -- to estimate the true mass of the newly reported terrestrial exoplanet in the nearest stellar system to our Sun. We present detailed numerical simulations of the dynamical stability of the exoplanet in the alpha Cen AB binary system for a range of initial inclinations, eccentricities, and semi-major axes. The system represents a benchmark case for the interplay of the Kozai mechanism, general relativistic and tidal forces. From our simulations, there is only a small boundary in initial inclinations and initial semi-major axes that result in the migration via the Kozai mechanism of alpha Cen B b to its present location. Inside this boundary, the planet orbit is stable for up to 1 Gyr against the Kozai mechanism, and outside this boundary the planet collides with alpha Cen B or is ejected. In our three simulations where the planet migrates in towards the star via the Kozai mechanism, the final inclination is 46-53 degrees relative to the AB orbital plane, lower than the initial inclination of 75 degrees in each case. We discuss inclination constraints from the formation of alpha Cen B b in situ at its present location, migration in a proto-planetary disk, or migration in resonance with additional planets. We conclude that alpha Cen B b probably has a mass of less than 2.7 M_earth, implying a likely terrestrial composition warranting future confirmation.

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