skip to main content

Title: Atmospheric Loss in Giant Impacts Depends on Preimpact Surface Conditions

Earth likely acquired much of its inventory of volatile elements during the main stage of its formation. Some of Earth’s proto-atmosphere must therefore have survived the giant impacts, collisions between planet-sized bodies, that dominate the latter phases of accretion. Here, we use a suite of 1D hydrodynamic simulations and impedance-match calculations to quantify the effect that preimpact surface conditions (such as atmospheric pressure and the presence of an ocean) have on the efficiency of atmospheric and ocean loss from protoplanets during giant impacts. We find that—in the absence of an ocean—lighter, hotter, and lower-pressure atmospheres are more easily lost. The presence of an ocean can significantly increase the efficiency of atmospheric loss compared to the no-ocean case, with a rapid transition between low- and high-loss regimes as the mass ratio of atmosphere to ocean decreases. However, contrary to previous thinking, the presence of an ocean can also reduce atmospheric loss if the ocean is not sufficiently massive, typically less than a few times the atmospheric mass. Volatile loss due to giant impacts is thus highly sensitive to the surface conditions on the colliding bodies. To allow our results to be combined with 3D impact simulations, we have developed scaling laws that relate loss to the ground velocity and surface conditions. Our results demonstrate that the final volatile budgets of planets are critically dependent on the exact timing and sequence of impacts experienced by their precursor planetary embryos, making atmospheric properties a highly stochastic outcome of accretion.

more » « less
Author(s) / Creator(s):
Publisher / Repository:
DOI PREFIX: 10.3847
Date Published:
Journal Name:
The Planetary Science Journal
Medium: X Size: Article No. 28
["Article No. 28"]
Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
More Like this
  1. Abstract

    MESSENGER observations suggest a magma ocean formed on proto-Mercury, during which evaporation of metals and outgassing of C- and H-bearing volatiles produced an early atmosphere. Atmospheric escape subsequently occurred by plasma heating, photoevaporation, Jeans escape, and photoionization. To quantify atmospheric loss, we combine constraints on the lifetime of surficial melt, melt composition, and atmospheric composition. Consideration of two initial Mercury sizes and four magma ocean compositions determines the atmospheric speciation at a given surface temperature. A coupled interior–atmosphere model determines the cooling rate and therefore the lifetime of surficial melt. Combining the melt lifetime and escape flux calculations provides estimates for the total mass loss from early Mercury. Loss rates by Jeans escape are negligible. Plasma heating and photoionization are limited by homopause diffusion rates of ∼106kg s−1. Loss by photoevaporation depends on the timing of Mercury formation and assumed heating efficiency and ranges from ∼106.6to ∼109.6kg s−1. The material for photoevaporation is sourced from below the homopause and is therefore energy limited rather than diffusion limited. The timescale for efficient interior–atmosphere chemical exchange is less than 10,000 yr. Therefore, escape processes only account for an equivalent loss of less than 2.3 km of crust (0.3% of Mercury’s mass). Accordingly, ≤0.02% of the total mass of H2O and Na is lost. Therefore, cumulative loss cannot significantly modify Mercury’s bulk mantle composition during the magma ocean stage. Mercury’s high core:mantle ratio and volatile-rich surface may instead reflect chemical variations in its building blocks resulting from its solar-proximal accretion environment.

    more » « less
  2. Abstract

    Ocean-vaporizing impacts of chemically reduced planetesimals onto the early Earth have been suggested to catalyze atmospheric production of reduced nitrogen compounds and trigger prebiotic synthesis despite an oxidized lithosphere. While geochemical evidence supports a dry, highly reduced late veneer on Earth, the composition of late-impacting debris around lower-mass stars is subject to variable volatile loss as a result of their hosts’ extended pre-main-sequence phase. We perform simulations of late-stage planet formation across the M-dwarf mass spectrum to derive upper limits on reducing bombardment epochs in Hadean-analog environments. We contrast the solar system scenario with varying initial volatile distributions due to extended primordial runaway greenhouse phases on protoplanets and the desiccation of smaller planetesimals by internal radiogenic heating. We find a decreasing rate of late-accreting reducing impacts with decreasing stellar mass. Young planets around stars ≤0.4Mexperience no impacts of sufficient mass to generate prebiotically relevant concentrations of reduced atmospheric compounds once their stars have reached the main sequence. For M-dwarf planets to not exceed Earth-like concentrations of volatiles, both planetesimals, and larger protoplanets must undergo extensive devolatilization processes and can typically emerge from long-lived magma ocean phases with sufficient atmophile content to outgas secondary atmospheres. Our results suggest that transiently reducing surface conditions on young rocky exoplanets are favored around FGK stellar types relative to M dwarfs.

    more » « less
  3. Abstract

    In recent years, a paradigm shift has occurred in exoplanet science, wherein low-mass stars are increasingly viewed as a foundational pillar of the search for potentially habitable worlds in the solar neighborhood. However, the formation processes of this rapidly accumulating sample of planet systems are still poorly understood. Moreover, it is unclear whether tenuous primordial atmospheres around these Earth analogs could have survived the intense epoch of heightened stellar activity that is typical for low-mass stars. We present new simulations of in situ planet formation across the M-dwarf mass spectrum, and derive leftover debris populations of small bodies that might source delayed volatile delivery. We then follow the evolution of this debris with high-resolution models of real systems of habitable zone planets around low-mass stars such as TRAPPIST-1, Proxima Centauri, and TOI-700. While debris in the radial vicinity of the habitable zone planets is removed rapidly, thus making delayed volatile delivery highly unlikely, we find that material ubiquitously scattered into an exo-asteroid belt region during the planet-formation process represents a potentially lucrative reservoir of icy small bodies. Thus, the presence of external approximately Neptune–Saturn mass planets capable of dynamically perturbing these asteroids would be a sign that habitable zone worlds around low-mass stars might have avoided complete desiccation. However, we also find that such giant planets significantly limit the efficiency of asteroidal implantation during the planet-formation process. In the coming decade, long-baseline radial velocity studies and Roman Space Telescope microlensing observations will undoubtedly further constrain this process.

    more » « less
  4. null (Ed.)
    Composition of terrestrial planets records planetary accretion, core–mantle and crust–mantle differentiation, and surface processes. Here we compare the compositional models of Earth and Mars to reveal their characteristics and formation processes. Earth and Mars are equally enriched in refractory elements (1.9 × CI), although Earth is more volatile-depleted and less oxidized than Mars. Their chemical compositions were established by nebular fractionation, with negligible contributions from post-accretionary losses of moderately volatile elements. The degree of planetary volatile element depletion might correlate with the abundances of chondrules in the accreted materials, planetary size, and their accretion timescale, which provides insights into composition and origin of Mercury, Venus, the Moon-forming giant impactor, and the proto-Earth. During its formation before and after the nebular disk’s lifetime, the Earth likely accreted more chondrules and less matrix-like materials than Mars and chondritic asteroids, establishing its marked volatile depletion. A giant impact of an oxidized, differentiated Mars-like (i.e., composition and mass) body into a volatile-depleted, reduced proto-Earth produced a Moon forming debris ring with mostly a proto-Earth’s mantle composition. Chalcophile and some siderophile elements in the silicate Earth added by the Mars-like impactor were extracted into the core by a sulfide melt (~0.5% of the mass of the Earth’s mantle). In contrast, the composition of Mars indicates its rapid accretion of lesser amounts of chondrules under nearly uniform oxidizing conditions. Mars’ rapid cooling and early loss of its dynamo likely led to the absence of plate tectonics and surface water, and the present-day low surface heat flux. These similarities and differences between the Earth and Mars made the former habitable and the other inhospitable to uninhabitable. 
    more » « less
  5. Abstract

    AF Lep A+b is a remarkable planetary system hosting a gas-giant planet that has the lowest dynamical mass among directly imaged exoplanets. We present an in-depth analysis of the atmospheric composition of the star and planet to probe the planet’s formation pathway. Based on new high-resolution spectroscopy of AF Lep A, we measure a uniform set of stellar parameters and elemental abundances (e.g., [Fe/H] = −0.27 ± 0.31 dex). The planet’s dynamical mass (2.80.5+0.6MJup) and orbit are also refined using published radial velocities, relative astrometry, and absolute astrometry. We usepetitRADTRANSto perform chemically consistent atmospheric retrievals for AF Lep b. The radiative–convective equilibrium temperature profiles are incorporated as parameterized priors on the planet’s thermal structure, leading to a robust characterization for cloudy self-luminous atmospheres. This novel approach is enabled by constraining the temperature–pressure profiles via the temperature gradient(dlnT/dlnP), a departure from previous studies that solely modeled the temperature. Through multiple retrievals performed on different portions of the 0.9–4.2μm spectrophotometry, along with different priors on the planet’s mass and radius, we infer that AF Lep b likely possesses a metal-enriched atmosphere ([Fe/H] > 1.0 dex). AF Lep b’s potential metal enrichment may be due to planetesimal accretion, giant impacts, and/or core erosion. The first process coincides with the debris disk in the system, which could be dynamically excited by AF Lep b and lead to planetesimal bombardment. Our analysis also determinesTeff≈ 800 K,log(g)3.7dex, and the presence of silicate clouds and disequilibrium chemistry in the atmosphere. Straddling the L/T transition, AF Lep b is thus far the coldest exoplanet with suggested evidence of silicate clouds.

    more » « less