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Rocky exoplanets are stranger than we thought and consist of rocks that do not exist in the solar system

A study has shown that rocky planets outside our solar system, known as exoplanets, are made up of “alien” rock types that do not even exist in our planetary system.

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The researchers used telescope data to analyze white dwarfs, which are incredibly dense stellar remnants of dead stars that have exhausted their nuclear fuel and shed their outer layers, shrinking to roughly the size of Earth, which is the expected fate of our sun.

Experts have found that some exoplanets have rock types that are not found, or cannot be found, on the planets of our solar system.

These rock types are so “exotic” that scientists have had to create new names for them, including “quartz pyroxenites” and “periclase dunites.”

Some of these rocks may dissolve more water than the rocks on Earth, which may have an impact on how the oceans formed on these planets before they disappeared.

The new study was led by astronomers at the National Science Foundation (NSF) NOIRLab, an astronomical research center based in Tucson, Arizona, in collaboration with geologists at California State University.

Astronomer Si Shu of NOIRLab said: ‘While some exoplanets that have been orbiting polluted white dwarfs look similar to Earth, most contain rock types that are alien to our solar system. They have no direct counterparts in the solar system.”

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So far, astronomers have discovered thousands of exoplanets orbiting other stars in our galaxy. Some 4,374 exoplanets have been confirmed in 3,234 systems since the first exoplanet discoveries in the early 1990s.

The majority of these exoplanets are gaseous, such as Jupiter or Neptune, rather than terrestrial, according to NASA’s online database.

To try to find out more, astronomer Shaw partnered with geologist Keith Buterka of California State University, Fresno, to study the atmosphere of so-called “polluted” white dwarfs.

These polluted white dwarfs are the dense, crumbling cores of previously normal stars such as the Sun, which contain exotic material from planets, asteroids or other rocky bodies that once orbited the star but eventually fell into the white dwarf and “contaminated” its atmosphere.

It is noteworthy that approximately 98% of all stars in the universe will end up as white dwarfs, including our sun.

By looking for elements that can’t be found naturally in the white dwarf’s atmosphere (anything other than hydrogen and helium), scientists can learn what the rocky planetary bodies that fell into the star were made of.

The team studied 23 contaminated white dwarfs, all within 650 light years from the sun, where calcium, silicon, magnesium and iron were discovered, using the WM Keck Observatory in Hawaii, the Hubble Space Telescope and other observatories.

Then the scientists used measured amounts of those elements to reconstruct the minerals and rocks they might form.

They found that these white dwarfs have a much wider range of compositions than any of the inner planets in our solar system, suggesting that their planets have a variety of rock types.

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“Some types of rock may melt at much lower temperatures and produce a crust that is thicker than Earth’s rock, and some types of rock may be weaker, which may facilitate the development of plate tectonics,” Buterka said.

Previous studies have found that white dwarfs contaminated elements from rocky bodies, including calcium, aluminum and lithium.

But these are “minor elements” (which usually make up a small part of Earth’s rock), so measurements of the “major elements” (which make up a large part of Earth’s rock), especially silicon, are necessary to really know what kind of rocks were on those planets. .

The high levels of magnesium and low levels of silicon measured in the white dwarf’s atmosphere indicate that the rocky debris detected likely came from the planet’s interior, from the mantle, rather than from its crust.

Some previous studies of contaminated white dwarfs reported signs of continental crust on rocky planets that once orbited those stars.

Source: Daily Mail

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