Tidally induced thermal runaways on extrasolar earths: impact on habitability

Research areas:
FEB 20
We study the susceptibility of extrasolar Earth-like planets to tidal dissipation by varying orbital, rheological, and heat transfer parameters. We employ a three-dimensional numerical method solving the coupled problem of mantle convection and tidal dissipation. A reference model mimicking a plate tectonic regime and reproducing Earth's present-day heat output is considered. Four other models representing less efficient heat transfer regimes are also investigated. For these five initial models, we determine the orbital configurations under which a positive feedback between tidal dissipation and temperature evolution leads to a thermal runaway. In order to describe the occurrence of thermal runaways, we develop a scaling that relates the global dissipated power to a characteristic temperature and to the orbital parameters. For all numerical experiments sharing the same initial temperature conditions, we show that the reciprocal value of the runaway timescale depends linearly on the global dissipated power at the beginning of the simulation. In the plate tectonic-like regime, Earth-like planets in the habitable zone (HZ) of 0.1 M-circle dot stars experience thermal runaways for 1: 1 spin-orbit resonance if the eccentricity is sufficiently high (e > 0.02 at a 4 day period, e > 0.2 at a 10 day period). For less efficient convective regimes, runaways are obtained for eccentricities as low as similar to 0.004 at the inner limit of the HZ. In the case of 3: 2 spin-orbit resonance, the occurrence of thermal runaways is independent of eccentricity and is predicted for orbital periods lower than 12 days. For less efficient convective regimes, runaways may occur at larger orbital periods potentially affecting the HZ of stars with a mass up to 0.4 M-circle dot. Whatever the convective regime and spin-orbit resonance, tidal heating within Earth-like planets orbiting in the HZ of stars more massive than 0.5 M-circle dot is not significant.