Harvard Scientists Develop Interactive Website to Model Exoplanet Interiors

Scientists from the Department of Astronomy at Harvard University have developed a new interactive website that models the interiors of exoplanets.

This tool is useful for observers to quickly constrain the interior structure of an exoplanet, for modelers to use in their computer simulations, and for teachers to illustrate the diversity of planetary structures to students.

In order to run this tool in a web browser, the user needs to download and install the free Wolfram CDF player.

Current observations often measure the mass and radius of an exoplanet. However, those two numbers cannot tell you everything about a planetary interior. To constrain the planet’s structure you need a third number – the central pressure (p0).

This interactive tool applies new Equations of States and assumes a fully differentiated planet interior made of three layers: an iron core, a rocky silicate layer, and a water/ice layer. It takes the mass and radius as inputs and first outputs the possible range of central pressure.

Then the user may pick a particular p0 within the possible range as the third constraint, to uniquely define the corresponding planet structure and calculate its interior density profile, interior pressure profile, as well as the mass fractions and radius fractions of each layer.

The lower bound and upper bound of the p0 range each corresponds to a two-layer model, while any p0 in between corresponds to a full three-layer model. The central pressure can be animated to increase in increments, to show how the structure changes continuously with increasing p0.

This tool has been developed by Li Zeng and Dimitar Sasselov at the Department of Astronomy, Harvard University. Stay tuned as it will be constantly updated.

Image: NASA, ESA, and G. Bacon (STScI)

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