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Detecting Volcanic Activity on Exoplanets

7 Oct 2013, 10:00 UTC
Detecting Volcanic Activity on Exoplanets
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On Earth, the majority of volcanic gases released into the atmosphere occur non-explosively near the surface, either along the mid-ocean ridges or from the venting of low-viscosity magmas like in the case of the continuous non-explosive eruption of Kilauea in Hawaii. Volcanic gases released in this manner typically do not reach the stratosphere and have short residing times in the atmosphere as they are subjected to rapid washout at lower altitudes. Only large explosive volcanic events such as the eruption of Krakatoa in 1883 and Mount Pinatubo in 1991 are powerful enough to inject volcanic gases directly into the stratosphere, where residing times are much longer. In addition, far less frequent eruptions involving super-volcanoes such as Yellowstone and Toba can inject greater quantities of volcanic gases into even higher altitudes.L. Kaltenegger et al. (2010) show that large explosive volcanic events can be detected on transiting Earth-sized to super-Earth-sized exoplanets using sulfur dioxide gas as a proxy. In an Earth-like stratosphere, high quantities of sulfur dioxide can only be present following a large volcanic eruption. For example, the eruption of Mount Pinatubo injected 17 ± 2 million tons of sulfur dioxide into the stratosphere. As a result, by looking for the ...

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