Finding other Earths: the chemistry of star and planet formation
|The “Astronomer’s periodic table,” showing the relative contents of the|
various elements present in stars [Credit: Duke University]
In 2015, Professor Blake and other researchers investigated more into ingredients in planets necessary for the development of life. Using the Earth and our solar system as the basis for their data, they explored the relative disposition of carbon and nitrogen in each stage of star and planet formation to learn more about core formation and atmospheric escape. Analyzing the carbon-silicon atomic ratio in planets and comets, Professor Blake discovered that rocky bodies in the solar system are generally carbon-poor. Since carbon is essential for our survival, however, Blake needed to determine the range of carbon content that terrestrial planets can have and still have active biosystem.
Kepler mission, scientists have detected a variety of planetary objects in the universe. How many of these star-planet systems – based on measured distributions – have 'solar system' like outcomes? A "solar system" like planetary system has at least one Earth-like planet at approximately 1 astronomical unit (AU) from the star – where more ideal conditions for life can develop – and at least one ice giant like Jupiter at 3-5 AU in order to keep away comets from the Earth-like planet. In our galaxy alone, there are around 10 billion stars and at least 10 million planets.
For those stars similar to our sun, there exist over 4 million planetary systems similar to our solar system, with the closest Earth-like planet at 20 light years away. With the rapid improvement of scientific knowledge and technology, Professor Blake estimates that we would be able to collect evidence within next 5-6 years of planets within 40-50 light years to determine if they have a habitable atmosphere.
|The Astrochemical Cycle: how solar systems are formed |
[Credit: Duke University]
How are the planets formed? The dust grains unused by the star collide and grow, forming larger particles at specific distances from the star – called snowlines – where water vapor turns into ice and solidifies. These "dust bunnies" grow into planetesimals (~10-50 km diameter), such as asteroids and comets. If the force of gravity is large enough, the planetesimals increase further in size to form oligarchs (~0.1-10 times the mass of the Earth), that then become the large planets of the solar system.
|Depiction of the snow line for planet formation |
[Credit: Duke University]
To the chemistry students at Duke, Professor Blake relayed an important message: learn chemistry fundamentals very carefully while in college. Over the next 40-50 years, your interests will change gears many times. Strong fundamentals, however, will serve you well, since you are now equipped to learn in many different areas and careers.
The study has been published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Author: Anika Radiya-Dixit | Source: Duke University [April 02, 2016]