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Stealing the Gas: Giant Impacts and the Large Diversity in Exoplanet Densities

By Niraj K. Inamdar and Hilke E. Schlichting


Although current sensitivity limits are such that true solar system analogs remain challenging to detect, numerous planetary systems have been discovered that are very different from our own solar system. The majority of systems harbor a new class of planets, bodies that are typically several times more massive than the Earth but orbit their host stars well inside the orbit of Mercury. These planets frequently show evidence for large hydrogen and helium envelopes containing several percent of the planet's mass and display a large diversity in mean densities. Here we show that this wide range can be achieved by one or two late giant impacts, which are frequently needed to achieve long-term orbital stability in multiple planet systems once the gas disk has disappeared. We demonstrate using hydrodynamical simulations that a single collision between similarly sized exoplanets can easily reduce the envelope-to-core-mass ratio by a factor of two and show that this leads to a corresponding increase in the observed mean density by factors of two to three. In addition, we investigate how envelope mass loss depends on envelope mass, planet radius, semimajor axis, and the mass distribution inside the envelope. We propose that a small number of giant impacts may be responsible for the large observed spread in mean densities, especially for multiple-planet systems that contain planets with very different densities and have not been significantly sculpted by photoevaporation

Publisher: 'American Astronomical Society'
Year: 2016
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