Oxygen Controls On Magmatism In Rocky Exoplanets

By Keith Cowing
Press Release
October 12, 2022
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Oxygen Controls On Magmatism In Rocky Exoplanets
Cartoon illustrating the structure of rocky exoplanets with identical relative cation abundances and thermal profiles at low (Left) and high (Right) planetary oxygen fugacity during their magma ocean stage. Oxidized planets have smaller metal cores (yellow), deeper magma oceans (red), and thicker, more oxidized atmospheres (purple). Solid lower mantles shown in claret. Credit; PNAS

Refractory oxygen bound to cations is a key component of the interior of rocky exoplanets. Its abundance controls planetary properties including metallic core fraction, core composition, and mantle and crust mineralogy.

Interior oxygen abundance, quantified with the oxygen fugacity (fO2), also determines the speciation of volatile species during planetary outgassing, affecting the composition of the atmosphere. Although melting drives planetary differentiation into core, mantle, crust, and atmosphere, the effect of fO2 on rock melting has not been studied directly to date, with prior efforts focusing on fO2-induced changes in the valence ratio of transition metals (particularly iron) in minerals and magma.

Here, melting experiments were performed using a synthetic iron-free basalt at oxygen levels representing reducing (log fO2 = −11.5 and −7) and oxidizing (log fO2 = −0.7) interior conditions observed in our solar system. Results show that the liquidus of iron-free basalt at a pressure of 1 atm is lowered by 105 ± 10 °C over an 11 log fO2 units increase in oxygen abundance. This effect is comparable in size to the well-known enhanced melting of rocks by the addition of H2O or CO2.

This implies that refractory oxygen abundance can directly control exoplanetary differentiation dynamics by affecting the conditions under which magmatism occurs, even in the absence of iron or volatiles. Exoplanets with a high refractory oxygen abundance exhibit more extensive and longer duration magmatic activity, leading to more efficient and more massive volcanic outgassing of more oxidized gas species than comparable exoplanets with a lower rock fO2.

Full paper Oxygen controls on magmatism in rocky exoplanets, PNAS


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