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How formation time-scales affect the period dependence of the transition between rocky super-Earths and gaseous sub-Neptunesand implications for eta
Lopez, Eric D.; Rice, Ken
AA(NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, 8800 Greenbelt Rd, Greenbelt, MD 20771, USA; GSFC Sellers Exoplanet Environments Collaboration, NASA GSFC, Greenbelt, MD 20771, USA; SUPA, Institute for Astronomy, Royal Observatory Edinburgh, University of Edinburgh, Blackford Hill, Edinburgh EH9 3HJ, UK), AB(SUPA, Institute for Astronomy, Royal Observatory Edinburgh, University of Edinburgh, Blackford Hill, Edinburgh EH9 3HJ, UK; Centre for Exoplanet Science, University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh, UK)
Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, Volume 479, Issue 4, p.5303-5311 (MNRAS Homepage)
Publication Date:
Astronomy Keywords:
planets and satellites: atmospheres, planets and satellites: composition, planets and satellites: physical evolution
Abstract Copyright:
Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of The Royal Astronomical Society 2018.
Bibliographic Code:


One of the most significant advances by NASA's Kepler Mission was the discovery of an abundant new population of highly irradiated planets with sizes between those of the Earth and Neptune, unlike anything found in the Solar System. Subsequent analysis showed that at ˜1.5 R there is a transition from a population of predominantly rocky super-Earths to non-rocky sub-Neptunes, which must have substantial volatile envelopes to explain their low densities. Determining the origin of these highly irradiated rocky planets will be critical to our understanding of low-mass planet formation and the frequency of potentially habitable Earth-like planets. These short-period rocky super-Earths could simply be the stripped cores of sub-Neptunes, which have lost their envelopes due to atmospheric photo-evaporation or other processes, or they might instead be a separate population of inherently rocky planets, which never had significant envelopes. We suggest an observational path forward to distinguish between these scenarios. Using models of atmospheric photo-evaporation, we show that if most bare rocky planets are the evaporated cores of sub-Neptunes, then the transition radius should decrease as surveys push to longer orbital periods, since on wider orbits only planets with smaller less massive cores can be stripped. On the other hand, if most rocky planets formed after their discs dissipate, then these planets will have formed without initial gaseous envelopes. In this case, we use N-body simulations of planet formation to show that the transition radius should increase with orbital period, due to the increasing solid mass available in their discs. Moreover, we show that distinguishing between these two scenarios should be possible in coming years with radial velocity follow-up of planets found by Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite. Finally, we discuss the broader implications of this work for current efforts to measure eta, which may yield significant overestimates if most rocky planets form as evaporated cores.
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