Study finds strange ‘exoskeleton exoplanets’ with thin outer layer may be present

'Exoskeleton Planets' are rocky worlds with very thin crusts and no topography.  The picture is of an artist rendering such an exoplanet

A new study reveals that ‘outer shell planets’ with very thin outer layers and very shallow terrain may orbit other stars in the universe.

Researchers say that at least three of these extraordinary ‘exoplanets’ are already known outside our solar system, but more than that.

Such rare worlds may have an outer layer only a few miles thick, plate tectonics are unlikely to occur, and may or may not be habitable.

They are larger and smaller than other exoplanets with very thick outer layers that are likely to share the same solar system.

The surface of the egg-bearing planets resembles the lower regions of Venus, with vast lavas, extreme hot surface temperatures, and high terrain.

‘Exoskeleton Planets’ are rocky worlds with very thin crusts and no topography. The picture is of an artist rendering such an exoplanet

Strange planets with outer layers like egg shells are one of the richest varieties of possible exoplanets.

Strange planets with outer layers like egg shells are one of the richest varieties of possible exoplanets.

How many exoplanets are there?

Exoplanet is any planet outside our solar system. Most orbit other stars, but free-floating exoplanets called rogue planets orbit the center of the galaxy, which is not connected to a single star.

Approximately 4,374 exoplanets have been confirmed in 3,234 systems since the first exoplanet discoveries in the early 1990s.

Most of these exoplanets are gases like Jupiter or Neptune, rather than Earth, NASA Online Database.

The nearest exoplanet is called Proxima Centauri B, about 4.2 light-years from our Sun.

However, it is difficult to know exactly what exoplanets are made of, or whether they resemble Earth.

The new study was led by Paul Byrne, a planetary geologist at the University of Washington in St. Louis.

Byrne and his team of international collaborators wanted to see what cosmic elements play the most important role in determining the thickness of the outer layer of a planet known as the lithosphere.

This thickness, for example, helps determine if a planet can support a high terrain like mountains, or whether one part has the right balance of rigidity and flexibility to conquer another – the face of plate tectonics.

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On Earth, this process helps our planet control its temperature on geological time scales, and this is why plate tectonics is considered to be an important factor in whether a planet is habitable or not.

“Understanding the potential of plate tectonics for you is very important to know about a world because plate tectonics may be needed to make a large rocky planet habitable,” Professor Byrne said.

‘This is especially important when we talk about exploring Earth-like worlds around other stars and depicting the habitation of the planets in general.’

So far, astronomers have discovered more than 4,000 exoplanets that have been confirmed to orbit other stars in our galaxy.

However, it is difficult to know exactly what exoplanets are made of, or whether they resemble Earth.

The thickness of the lithosphere – the outermost shell of a planet – plays an important role in the geological processes that determine their characteristics, the team says.

The surface of the planets with the egg is similar to the lower regions of Venus (here a false color radar image is depicted in the mosaic).  The bright and fine peach lines are tectonic structures and the dark and purple areas are relatively smooth volcanic plains.  Some small volcanoes appear near the center below.  The image was made using radar data from NASA's Magellan mission, which operated between 1990 and 1994, covering an area of ​​about 1,400 km (870 mi).

The surface of the planets with the egg is similar to the lower regions of Venus (here a false color radar image is depicted in the mosaic). The bright and fine peach lines are tectonic structures and the dark and purple areas are relatively smooth volcanic plains. Some small volcanoes appear near the center below. The image was made using radar data provided by NASA’s Magellan mission between 1990 and 1994 and covers an area of ​​approximately 1,400 km (870 mi).

Exoplanets have ‘strange’ rocks that cannot be found in our solar system

Asteroids outside our Solar System, known as exoplanets, are composed of ‘foreign’ rocks that are not even present in our planetary system, a study shows.

Researchers have analyzed white dwarfs using telescope data – former stars that once gave life to our Sun – in an attempt to unravel the mysteries of the planets around them.

Experts have discovered that some exoplanets have rocks that do not exist or can not be found on the planets in our solar system.

These rocks are very ‘strange’ and the authors have had to create new names for them – including ‘quartz pyroxenite’ and ‘periclase dunite’.

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Read more: Exoplanets contain ‘foreign’ rocks not found in our solar system

To understand how the planetary and stellar elements generally affect the thickness of a lithosphere, the team modeled multiple combinations of planetary mass, surface and mantle temperature, energy flow, and more.

For their modeling efforts, scientists have chosen a typical ‘Earth-sized’ rocky planet as a starting point.

‘Then we turned the dials,’ Byne said. ‘We literally drove thousands of models.’

According to the results, the surface temperature is the main factor controlling the thickness of the fracturing layer, although the mass of the planet, the distance to the star, and the age of a planet all play a role.

The smaller and older planets generally have thicker fracturing lithospheres similar to those of Mercury and Mars, while the larger and smaller planets have thinner fracturing lithospheres comparable to the lower regions of Venus.

However, some combinations of these parameters are likely to present worlds with ‘excessively thin brittle layers’, the team says.

Researchers have come a long way in depicting the planets’ surface with this egg, so they do not know what they look like other than speculating that they are similar to Venus.

‘We’ve photographed a few exoplanets, but they are light slots orbiting a star,’ Byrne said. ‘We do not yet have the technical ability to actually see the surface of exoplanets.

Scientists can use planned and future space telescopes to examine exoplanets in more detail and confirm their geographical features.

So far, astronomers have discovered more than 4,000 exoplanets that have been confirmed to orbit other stars in our galaxy.  The picture is of an artist rendering an exoplanet and its moon

So far, astronomers have discovered more than 4,000 exoplanets that have been confirmed to orbit other stars in our galaxy. The picture is of an artist rendering an exoplanet and its moon

‘We know from published works that there are exoplanets in our solar system that experience conditions more intensely than we see,’ Byrne said.

‘They may be closer to their star than the planets we see in our own system, or they may be much larger, or have hotter surfaces.’

‘Ultimately, we want to help identify the assets that make the world habitable.

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‘It’s livable, not just temporary, because we think life will take some time to move forward and become sustainable.’

The study has been published in Journal of Geophysical Research: Planets.

Scientists study the atmospheres of distant planets using space satellites such as Hubble.

Distant stars and their orbiting planets often have different conditions from what we see in our atmosphere.

To understand this new world and what they are made of, scientists need to figure out what their atmosphere is.

They often do this using a telescope similar to NASA’s Hubble Telescope.

These giant satellites scan the sky and lock into exoplanets that NASA thinks are of interest.

Here, the sensors on the board perform a variety of analyzes.

Absorption spectroscopy is one of the most important and useful.

This type of analysis measures the light emitted from a planet’s atmosphere.

Each gas absorbs a slightly different wavelength of light, and when this happens a black line appears in a full spectrum.

These lines correspond to a particular molecule, which indicates the presence on the planet.

They were first discovered in 1814 by the German astronomer and physicist and are known as the Fronhofer Lines.

By combining all the wavelengths of light, scientists can determine all the chemicals that make up a planet’s atmosphere.

It is important to provide clues as to what is missing and what is present.

It is important to do this with space telescopes because the Earth’s atmosphere will then interfere.

Absorption of chemicals from our atmosphere will distort the sample, which is why it is important to study it before light reaches Earth.

It is often used to detect helium, sodium, and even oxygen in extraterrestrial atmospheres.

This diagram shows how the light passing through the atmosphere of an exoplanet from a star creates Fronhofer lines indicating the presence of important compounds such as sodium or helium.

This diagram shows how the light passing through the atmosphere of an exoplanet from a star creates Fronhofer lines indicating the presence of important compounds such as sodium or helium.

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