Evidence of tectonic activity discovered on an exoplanet for the first time

Shane McGlaun - Mar 7, 2021, 9:45am CST
Evidence of tectonic activity discovered on an exoplanet for the first time

Astronomers have been intently studying an exoplanet called LHS 3844b for many years. Back in 2019, researchers announced that they believed the planet was covered by dark lava rock. Researchers studying the exoplanet have now made another exciting discovery with evidence for the first time of tectonic activity on another planet.

The evidence suggesting LHS 3844b might have tectonic activity comes from a set of advanced simulations based on observations of the planet. While the exoplanet and Earth might have tectonic activity in common, the exoplanet is slightly larger than Earth and doesn’t appear to have an atmosphere. Half of the exoplanet is permanently exposed to the sun, and surface temperatures are thought to be about 800 degrees Celsius on the daytime side.

On the planet’s side permanently engulfed in night, the temperature is believed to be about -250 degrees Celsius. Researcher Tobias Meier says that the researchers thought the severe temperature difference between the day and night side of the planet could affect material flow in the planet’s interior. Based on phase curve observations of the brightness and possible temperatures of the planet and a computer model simulating various possible tectonic materials and heat sources, the researchers now believe that a hemisphere-scale flow of subsurface material occurs.

The majority of simulations run by the researchers show only upwards flow on one side of the planet and only downward flow on another side of the planet. However, in some of the simulations, that was reversed, which is something that doesn’t match tectonic movements on Earth.

Data uncovered by the researchers seems to indicate that LHS 3844b could have one entire hemisphere covered in volcanoes. In contrast, the other side has hardly any volcanic activity due to the massive temperature differences around the planet. Scientists plan to study LHS 3844b in more depth in the future as more powerful telescopes come online around the world.


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