Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Lithium Depletion may Signal Exoplanetary System Presence

Accretion of planetary matter and the lithium problem in the 16 Cygni stellar system


Deal et al


The 16 Cyg system is composed of two solar analogs with similar masses and ages. A red dwarf is in orbit around 16 Cyg A whereas 16 Cyg B hosts a giant planet. The abundances of heavy elements are similar in the two stars but lithium is much more depleted in 16 Cyg B that in 16 Cyg A, by a factor of at least 4.7. The interest of studying the 16 Cyg system is that the two star have the same age and the same initial composition. The presently observed differences must be due to their different evolution, related to the fact that one of them hosts a planet contrary to the other one. We computed models of the two stars which precisely fit the observed seismic frequencies. We used the Toulouse Geneva Evolution Code (TGEC) that includes complete atomic diffusion (including radiative accelerations). We compared the predicted surface abundances with the spectroscopic observations and confirmed that another mixing process is needed. We then included the effect of accretion-induced fingering convection. The accretion of planetary matter does not change the metal abundances but leads to lithium destruction which depends on the accreted mass. A fraction of earth mass is enough to explain the lithium surface abundances of 16 Cyg B. We also checked the beryllium abundances. In the case of accretion of heavy matter onto stellar surfaces, the accreted heavy elements do not remain in the outer convective zones but they are mixed downwards by fingering convection induced by the unstable μ-gradient. Depending on the accreted mass, this mixing process may transport lithium down to its nuclear destruction layers and lead to an extra lithium depletion at the surface. A fraction of earth mass is enough to explain a lithium ratio of 4.7 in the 16 Cyg system. In this case beryllium is not destroyed. Such a process may be frequent in planet host stars and should be studied in other cases in the future.

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