[ASC-media] ANU Media Release: SUPER EARTHS EMERGE FROM COSMIC SNOWSTORM

Jane O'Dwyer jane.odwyer at anu.edu.au
Fri Oct 20 09:41:12 CEST 2006


ANU MEDIA RELEASE
News from The Australian National University

MONDAY 23 OCTOBER 2006 
SUPER EARTHS EMERGE FROM COSMIC SNOWSTORM
Hefty planets that weigh up to 15 times more than Earth - known as
"super-Earths" - may actually be giant ice balls that formed during a
cosmic snowstorm that lasted millions of years, according to research by
a team of astronomers that includes Grant Kennedy from The Australian
National University.

Mr Kennedy, a PhD scholar at the ANU Research School of Astronomy and
Astrophysics at  Mount Stromlo Observatory and his colleagues Scott
Kenyon from the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory and Benjamin
Bromley from the University of Utah, calculated that some super-Earths
build up rapidly when local temperatures drop and ices condense out of
the surrounding gas.  

There is great variety among the 200 known planets that orbit other
stars, ranging from the recently discovered icy "super-Earth" planets to
low-mass gas giants. Scientists have been able to explain how planets
form around Sun-like stars, but have been surprised by the discovery of
planets around the relatively smaller and cooler red dwarf stars.

In a planetary system such as our Solar System, planets form within a
disk of gas and dust surrounding a newborn star. Rocky planets like
Venus, Earth and Mars form close to the star, where it is warm, while
icy and gaseous planets like Jupiter, Saturn and Uranus form farther
out. When it was young, the Sun was relatively stable, leading to a
natural progression of small, rocky worlds in the hot inner Solar System
and large, gaseous worlds in the cold outer solar system. 

The planetary systems around newborn red dwarf stars undergo more
dramatic changes. As the young star evolves, it dims and the warm inner
disk begins to freeze, creating conditions where water and other
volatile gases condense into snowflakes and ice pellets. 

"It's like a massive cold front that sweeps inward toward the star,"
Kennedy said. "The ices add mass to a growing planet, and also make it
easier for particles to stick together. The two effects combine to
produce a planet several times the size of Earth.

"The disks that surround red dwarf stars tend to contain less material
than the one that formed our Solar System. Without the "snowstorms" in
these smaller disks, there isn't enough material to make super-Earths."
 
The astronomers presented their calculations in a paper published in The
Astrophysical Journal Letters. The paper is available at
http://arxiv.org/abs/astro-ph/0609140. This research provides an
explanation for the formation of the small icy super-Earth found by the
PLANET team that included RSAA Director Professor Penny Sackett earlier
this year
http://info.anu.edu.au/mac/Media/Media_Releases/_2006/_January/_260106ne
wplanet.asp

For further information: Grant Kennedy, Research School of Astronomy and
Astrophysics and ANU Planetary Science Institute: 02 6125 8915 or 041
446 8383          
Jane O'Dwyer, ANU Media Office, 02 6125 5001 or 0416 249 231  

Jane O'Dwyer
Media Manager
The Australian National University
T: 02 6125 5001
F: 02 6125 8255
M: 0416 249 231
W: www.anu.edu.au/media

Looking for expert comment? Try www.anu.edu.au/experts 

Marketing and Communications Division
The Australian National University
Canberra ACT 0200
Australia 

CRICOS Provider #00120C



Jane O'Dwyer
Media Manager
The Australian National University
T: 02 6125 5001
F: 02 6125 8255
M: 0416 249 231
W: www.anu.edu.au/media

Looking for expert comment? Try www.anu.edu.au/experts 

Marketing and Communications Division
The Australian National University
Canberra ACT 0200
Australia 

CRICOS Provider #00120C

-------------- next part --------------
An HTML attachment was scrubbed...
URL: http://lists.asc.asn.au/pipermail/asc-media/attachments/20061020/563619ee/attachment.html 


More information about the ASC-media mailing list