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The DOE Science News Source is a Newswise initiative to promote research news from the Office of Science of the DOE to the public and news media.
  • 2018-04-17 06:00:04
  • Article ID: 692895

Ramp Compression of Iron Provides Insight into Core Conditions of Large Rocky Exoplanets

  • High power lasers at the National Ignition Facility are focused onto a multi-stepped iron sample at the center of the 10-meter-diameter target chamber. These experiments measure the equation of state of iron under core conditions of large rocky exoplanets.

In a paper published today by Nature Astronomy, a team of researchers from Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL), Princeton University, Johns Hopkins University and the University of Rochester have provided the first experimentally based mass-radius relationship for a hypothetical pure iron planet at super-Earth core conditions.

This discovery can be used to evaluate plausible compositional space for large, rocky exoplanets, forming the basis of future planetary interior models, which in turn can be used to more accurately interpret observation data from the Kepler space mission and aid in identifying planets suitable for habitability.

“The discovery of large numbers of planets outside our solar system has been one of the most exciting scientific discoveries of this generation,” said Ray Smith, a physicist at LLNL and lead author of the research. “These discoveries raise fundamental questions. What are the different types of extrasolar planets and how do they form and evolve? Which of these objects can potentially sustain surface conditions suitable for life? To address such questions, it is necessary to understand the composition and interior structure of these objects.”

Of the more than 4,000 confirmed and candidate extrasolar planets, those that are one to four times the radius of the Earth are now known to be the most abundant. This size range, which spans between Earth and Neptune, is not represented in our own solar system, indicating that planets form over a wider range of physical conditions than previously thought.

“Determining the interior structure and composition of these super-Earth planets is challenging but is crucial to understanding the diversity and evolution of planetary systems within our galaxy,” Smith said.

As core pressures for even a 5×-Earth-mass planet can reach as high as 2 million atmospheres, a fundamental requirement for constraining exoplanetary composition and interior structure is an accurate determination of the material properties at extreme pressures. Iron (Fe) is a cosmochemically abundant element and, as the dominant constituent of terrestrial planetary cores, is a key material for studying super-Earth interiors. A detailed understanding of the properties of iron at super-Earth conditions is an essential component of the team’s experiments.

The researchers describe a new generation of high-power laser experiments, which use ramp compression techniques to provide the first absolute equation of state measurements of Fe at the extreme pressure and density conditions found within super-Earth cores. Such shock-free dynamic compression is uniquely suited for compressing matter with minimal heating to TPa pressures (1 TPa = 1 million atmospheres). 

The experiments were conducted at the LLNL’s National Ignition Facility (NIF). NIF, the world’s largest and most energetic laser, can deliver up to 2 megajoules of laser energy over 30 nanoseconds and provides the necessary laser power and control to ramp compress materials to TPa pressures. The team’s experiments reached peak pressures of 1.4 TPa, four times higher pressure than previous static results, representing core conditions found with a 3-4x Earth mass planet. 

“Planetary interior models, which rely on a description of constituent materials under extreme pressures, are commonly based on extrapolations of low-pressure data and produce a wide range of predicated material states. Our experimental data provides a firmer basis for establishing the properties of a super-Earth planet with a pure iron planet,” Smith said. “Furthermore, our study demonstrates the capability for determination of equations of state and other key thermodynamic properties of planetary core materials at pressures well beyond those of conventional static techniques. Such information is crucial for advancing our understanding of the structure and dynamics of large rocky exoplanets and their evolution.”

Future experiments on NIF will extend the study of planetary materials to several TPa while combining nanosecond X-ray diffraction techniques to determine the crystal structure evolution with pressure.

Co-authors include Dayne Fratanduono, David Braun, Peter Celliers, Suzanne Ali, Amalia Fernandez-Pañella, Richard Kraus, Damian Swift and Jon Eggert from LLNL; Thomas Duffy from Princeton University; June Wicks from Johns Hopkins University; and Gilbert Collins from the University of Rochester. 

Founded in 1952, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (www.llnl.gov) provides solutions to our nation’s most important national security challenges through innovative science, engineering and technology. Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory is managed by Lawrence Livermore National Security, LLC for the U.S. Department of Energy's National Nuclear Security Administration.

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Ramp Compression of Iron Provides Insight into Core Conditions of Large Rocky Exoplanets

A team of researchers from Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL), Princeton University, Johns Hopkins University and the University of Rochester have provided the first experimentally based mass-radius relationship for a hypothetical pure iron planet at super-Earth core conditions. This discovery can be used to evaluate plausible compositional space for large, rocky exoplanets, forming the basis of future planetary interior models, which in turn can be used to more accurately interpret observation data from the Kepler space mission and aid in identifying planets suitable for habitability.

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Five Leading Liberal Arts Colleges Partner to Create New Solar Energy Facility in Maine

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Brookhaven Lab Materials Physicist Yimei Zhu Receives 2018 Distinguished Scientist Award from the Microscopy Society of America

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Earlier today, April 16, 2018, U.S. Secretary of Energy Rick Perry and India's Atomic Energy Secretary Dr. Sekhar Basu signed an agreement in New Delhi to expand the two countries' collaboration on world-leading science and technology projects. It opens the way for jointly advancing cutting-edge neutrino science projects under way in both countries: the Long-Baseline Neutrino Facility (LBNF) with the international Deep Underground Neutrino Experiment (DUNE) hosted at the U.S. Department of Energy's Fermilab and the India-based Neutrino Observatory (INO).

Nanomaterials Expert Ganpati Ramanath Named Fellow of Materials Research Society

Nanomaterials expert Ganpati Ramanath, the John Tod Horton '52 Professor of Materials Science and Engineering at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, has been named a fellow of the Materials Research Society (MRS) "for developing creative approaches to realize new nanomaterials via chemically directed nanostructure synthesis and assembly and for tailoring interfaces in electronics and energy applications using molecular nanolayers."

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Hirohisa Tanaka Joins SLAC to Push Limits of Neutrino Physics

Accomplished neutrino physicist Hirohisa Tanaka has joined the Department of Energy's SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory as a professor of particle physics and astrophysics. He oversees a group at the lab that is preparing for research with the future Deep Underground Neutrino Experiment (DUNE) at the Long-Baseline Neutrino Facility (LBNF). The experiment will give scientists unprecedented opportunities to learn more about neutrinos - fundamental particles with mysterious properties that could play crucial roles in the evolution of the universe.

University Teams to Compete in Department of Energy's 2018 National Cyber Defense Competition

The U.S. Department of Energy is proud to announce the 29 university teams selected to compete in the third annual Cyber Defense Competition (CDC), taking place April 6-7, 2018.


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Getting Magnesium Ions to Pick Up the Pace

Magnesium ions move very fast to enable a new class of battery materials.

Seeing How Next-Generation Batteries Power-Up

Scientists directly see how the atoms in a magnesium-based battery fit into the structure of electrodes.

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Scientists mimic a worm's lethal jaw to design and form resilient materials.

How to Turn Light Into Atomic Vibrations

Converting laser light into nuclear vibrations is key to switching a material's properties on and off for future electronics.

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Scientists demonstrated that powerful acids heal certain structural defects in synthetic films.

Tubular Science Improves Polymer Solar Cells

Novel engineered polymers assemble buckyballs into columns using a conventional coating process.

Fast! Hard X-Ray Flash Breaks Speed Record

Lasting just a few hundred billionths of a billionth of a second, these bursts offer new tool to study chemistry and magnetism.

Scientists Have Overestimated Meteor Sizes

First demonstration of high-pressure metastability mapping with ultrafast X-ray diffraction shows objects aren't as large as previously thought.

Rewriting Resistance: Genetic Changes Increase Crops' Biomass and Sugar Release

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Measuring the Glow of Plants From Below

Novel observations suggest a great potential of measuring global gross primary production via solar-induced fluorescence.


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