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Oxygen fugacities of extrasolar rocks: Evidence for an Earth-like geochemistry of exoplanets

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Science  18 Oct 2019:
Vol. 366, Issue 6463, pp. 356-359
DOI: 10.1126/science.aax3901

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Peering inside extrasolar rocky bodies

The oxygen fugacity of a rock, fO2, is a measure of how oxidizing or reducing its surroundings were when the rock formed. Different minerals form at different fO2 and have different physical properties, so the internal structure of an exoplanet depends on this value. Doyle et al. exploited the signature left behind when rocky bodies impact a white dwarf—the remnant of a dead star. By examining the rock-forming elements left on the surface of each white dwarf, they determine fO2 in the impacting body. Six systems all had similar fO2 to bodies in the Solar System, consistent with the idea that rocky exoplanets often have internal properties similar to those of Earth and Mars.

Science, this issue p. 356

Abstract

Oxygen fugacity is a measure of rock oxidation that influences planetary structure and evolution. Most rocky bodies in the Solar System formed at oxygen fugacities approximately five orders of magnitude higher than a hydrogen-rich gas of solar composition. It is unclear whether this oxidation of rocks in the Solar System is typical among other planetary systems. We exploit the elemental abundances observed in six white dwarfs polluted by the accretion of rocky bodies to determine the fraction of oxidized iron in those extrasolar rocky bodies and therefore their oxygen fugacities. The results are consistent with the oxygen fugacities of Earth, Mars, and typical asteroids in the Solar System, suggesting that at least some rocky exoplanets are geophysically and geochemically similar to Earth.

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