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How did they get there?

November 30th, 2015

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There are of order 500 million hot Jupiters in the Milky Way. Swollen and massive, with blisteringly short periods, they crowd the tables and the diagrams showing extrasolar planets. The first of their number were career-cementing front page news, trophies of planet roving planet hunters. Two decades on, they slip into the census with little fanfare and less notice.

Conventional wisdom holds that hot Jupiters form at large, Jupiter-like distances, where water ice is stable and where the orbital clock runs slowly. Then they migrate radially inward, either gradually, by interacting with the disk that produced them, or, even more gradually, via the Kozai process, or perhaps, violently, as a consequence of dynamical instabilities that toss giant planets to and fro.

When the first hot Jupiters were discovered, their presence was so strange, so unpredicted and so uncomfortable that there was a certain need for a point of contact with the familiar. It seems more sensible that a planet should form in the right environment and then go astray, rather than defy odds and logic to emerge spontaneously in a location where it obviously shouldn’t be. It’s a short leap from the Copernican principle to the idea that the Solar System has no special distinction. We have nothing orbiting at forty days, not to speak of four.

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Yet there is a tantalizing gap in the mass-period diagram that hints that short-period super-Earths that reach fifteen or more Earth masses might engage in rapid gas accretion. Such promotions need happen less than once in a hundred tries. In the spirit of trying to go against the grain, in the perverse hope of eliciting a paradigm shift, Konstantin, Peter B. and I have been working to make the case that many hot Jupiters might just form where they’re found.

The details are all in a paper that we just posted on arXiv.

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