Initiation of Plate Tectonics on Exoplanets with Significant Tidal Stress

By Keith Cowing
Press Release
November 29, 2017
Filed under
Initiation of Plate Tectonics on Exoplanets with Significant Tidal Stress
Vallis Marineris

Plate tectonics is a geophysical process currently unique to Earth, has an important role in regulating the Earth’s climate, and may be better understood by identifying rocky planets outside our solar system with tectonic activity.

The key criterion for whether or not plate tectonics may occur on a terrestrial planet is if the stress on a planet’s lithosphere from mantle convection may overcome the lithosphere’s yield stress. Although many rocky exoplanets closely orbiting their host stars have been detected, all studies to date of plate tectonics on exoplanets have neglected tidal stresses in the planet’s lithosphere. Modeling a rocky exoplanet as a constant density, homogeneous, incompressible sphere, we show the tidal stress from the host star acting on close-in planets may become comparable to the stress on the lithosphere from mantle convection. We also show that tidal stresses from planet-planet interactions are unlikely to be significant for plate tectonics, but may be strong enough to trigger Earthquakes.

Our work may imply planets orbiting close to their host stars are more likely to experience plate tectonics, with implications for exoplanetary geophysics and habitability. We produce a list of detected rocky exoplanets under the most intense stresses. Atmospheric and topographic observations may confirm our predictions in the near future. Investigations of planets with significant tidal stress can not only lead to observable parameters linked to the presence of active plate tectonics, but may also be used as a tool to test theories on the main driving force behind tectonic activity.

J. J. Zanazzi, Amaury Triaud
(Submitted on 27 Nov 2017)

Comments: 25 pages, 1 figure, submitted to Icarus
Subjects: Earth and Planetary Astrophysics (astro-ph.EP); Geophysics (physics.geo-ph)
Cite as: arXiv:1711.09898 [astro-ph.EP] (or arXiv:1711.09898v1 [astro-ph.EP] for this version)
Submission history
From: John Zanazzi [view email]
[v1] Mon, 27 Nov 2017 19:00:00 GMT (380kb,D)

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