Short-period Earth to Neptune-sized exoplanets (super-Earths) with voluminous gas envelopes seem to be very common. These gas atmospheres are thought to have originated from the protoplanetary disc in which the planets were embedded during their first few million years. The accretion rate of gas from the surrounding nebula is determined by the ability of the gas to cool and radiate away its gravitational energy. Here, we demonstrate that heat from the tidal interaction between the star and the young (and therefore inflated) planet can inhibit the gas cooling and accretion. Quantitatively, we find that the growth of super-Earth atmospheres halts for planets with periods of about 10 d, provided that their initial eccentricities are of the order of 0.2. Thus, tidal heating provides a robust and simple mechanism that can simultaneously explain why these planets did not become gas giants and account for the deficit of low-density planets closer to the star, where the tides are even stronger. We suggest that tidal heating may be as important as other factors (such as the nebula's lifetime and atmosphere evaporation) in shaping the observed super-Earth population.
Bibliographical notePublisher Copyright:
© 2016 The Authors. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the Royal Astronomical Society.
- Planets and satellites: atmospheres
- Planets and satellites: formation
- Star interactions