Wednesday, March 20, 2013

1303.3899 (James E. Owen et al.)

Kepler planets: a tale of evaporation    [PDF]

James E. Owen, Yanqin Wu
(Abridged) Inspired by the Kepler planet discoveries, we consider the thermal contraction of planets close to their parent star, under the influence of evaporation. The mass-loss rates are based on hydrodynamic models of evaporation that include both X-ray and EUV irradiation. We find that only low-mass planets with hydrogen envelopes are significantly affected by evaporation, with evaporation being able to remove massive hydrogen envelopes inward of 0.1 AU for Neptune-mass objects. We construct a theoretical population of planets with varying core masses, envelope masses, orbital separations, and stellar spectral types, and compare these against the sizes and densities measured for low-mass planets, both in the Kepler mission and from radial velocity surveys. This exercise leads us to conclude that evaporation is the driving force of evolution for close-in Kepler planets. In fact, some 50% of the Kepler planet candidates may have been significantly eroded. Evaporation explains two striking correlations observed in these objects: a lack of large radius/low density planets close to the stars, and a bimodal distribution in planet sizes with a deficit of planets around 2R_E. Planets that have experienced high X-ray exposures are generally smaller than this size, and those with lower X-ray exposures are typically larger. The bimodal distribution is uniquely and naturally explained by evaporation model, where, depending on their X-ray exposure, close-in planets can either hold on to hydrogen envelopes 1% in mass, or be stripped entirely. To quantitatively reproduce the observed features, we argue that not only do low-mass Kepler planets need to be made of rocky cores overlaid with hydrogen envelopes, but few of them should have initial masses above 20 M_E, and the majority of them should have core masses of a few Earth masses.
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