Accreting Planets in the Habitable Zones of M-Stars Are Too Hot to Retain Liquid Water

Friday, 19 December 2014
Ramses M Ramirez1, Ravi Kumar Kopparapu2 and James F Kasting2, (1)Cornell University, Astronomy, Ithaca, NY, United States, (2)Pennsylvania State University Main Campus, Geosciences, University Park, PA, United States
Previous studies1,2 have shown that young accreting planets in the habitable zones (HZ) of pre-main sequence M-stars face major dynamical hurdles in both the retention and acquisition of volatiles. High collision rates with other bodies, short planetary formation timescales, and inefficient radial mixing are among the major problems encountered. However, another equally-important concern is the high temperatures predicted within the circumstellar disk, greatly hindering volatile delivery.

We use a 1-D radiative-convective climate model to demonstrate that the fluxes received by accreting planets orbiting late K-M stars exceed the runaway greenhouse threshold. Given that M-stars are disproportionately brighter in their pre main-sequence lifetimes as compared to Sun-like stars (i.e. G-class insolation), planets orbiting M-stars are especially susceptible to the runaway, with intensity and duration increasing for cooler M-stars. Thus, accreting planetesimals in the HZs of M-stars could be too hot to maintain liquid water on their surfaces. In contrast, accreting planets located at Earth’s distance (or farther) from a pre-main sequence solar analogue (i.e. G2 spectral class) receive stellar fluxes well below that of the runaway point. Our results suggest that future missions and surveys can improve their prospects of finding alien life by targeting HZ planets orbiting Sun-like stars. Moreover, our findings support recent claims that Venus may have lost its water during accretion3.


1. Lissauer, Jack J. "Planets formed in habitable zones of M dwarf stars probably are deficient in volatiles." The Astrophysical Journal Letters 660.2 (2007): L149.

2. Raymond, Sean N., John Scalo, and Victoria S. Meadows. "A decreased probability of habitable planet formation around low-mass stars." The Astrophysical Journal 669.1 (2007): 606.

3. Hamano, Keiko, Yutaka Abe, and Hidenori Genda. "Emergence of two types of terrestrial planet on solidification of magma ocean." Nature 497.7451 (2013): 607-610.