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Warning: Too Much Radiogenic Heat Could Hurt Exoplanet Habitability

8 Dec 2020, 17:00 UTC
Warning: Too Much Radiogenic Heat Could Hurt Exoplanet Habitability
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Editor’s note: Astrobites is a graduate-student-run organization that digests astrophysical literature for undergraduate students. As part of the partnership between the AAS and astrobites, we occasionally repost astrobites content here at AAS Nova. We hope you enjoy this post from astrobites; the original can be viewed at astrobites.org.
Title: Radiogenic Heating and its Influence on Rocky Planet Dynamos and Habitability
Authors: Francis Nimmo et al.
First Author’s Institution: University of California Santa Cruz
Status: Published in ApJL
Rocky planets are thought to start as hot masses of material accreting from a disk of gas and dust around their young host star. Whereas the primary heat source early on comes from accretion, and orbital dynamics can lead to further heating through tidal squeezing, the ongoing thermal evolution of many rocky planets is likely controlled by radiogenic heat production. In particular, the radioactive isotopes of uranium (U) and thorium (Th) have long half-lives and so may be significant in deciding the long-term geodynamic history. The authors of today’s bite argue that the exact concentrations of such elements in a planet’s mantle could decide the presence and strength of that world’s magnetic field.
Dynamo theory holds that magnetic fields are generated by circulation ...

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