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Beyond Earthly Skies

Thermal Expansion of Water-Rich Super-Earths

4 May 2016, 22:00 UTC
Thermal Expansion of Water-Rich Super-Earths
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Super-Earths are a relatively common class of planets that have masses between 1 to 10 times the mass of Earth. Internal structure models of super-Earths usually do not include thermal effects due to the understanding that the thermal expansion of a solid Earth-like planet is negligible. Thomas & Madhusudhan (2016) present temperature-dependent internal structure models of super-Earths and found that thermal effects can induce significant changes in the radii of water-rich super-Earths.Figure 1: Artist's impression of a super-Earth.The total mass of water on Earth forms a negligible fraction of the planet's total mass. Unlike Earth, water-rich super-Earths can have water mass fractions exceeding one percent. In the study by Thomas & Madhusudhan (2016), water-rich super-Earths are assumed to be comprised of Earth-like cores (i.e. 33 percent iron and 67 percent silicates) beneath heated water layers. At low temperatures and pressures, water exists as a liquid, vapour or solid (Ice Ih). At the high pressures and temperatures expected on these water-rich super-Earths, water can take on a number of alternate forms such as exotic high pressure ices (i.e. Ice V, VI, VII, X, etc), a supercritical fluid, or a superheated vapour.Consider a water-rich super-Earth with 4 times the mass of Earth. ...

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