Black Holes Shape Planet's Destiny

Live Science | 2/28/2018 | Staff
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Monster black holes near the center of our Milky Way galaxy may have transformed "mini-Neptune" exoplanets into rocky super-Earths, new research shows.

Supermassive black holes are thought to reside at the centers of most, if not all, large galaxies. They gobble up surrounding matter and, in turn, generate bright flares of X-ray and ultraviolet radiation.

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"It's pretty wild to think of black holes shaping the evolutionary destiny of a planet, but that very well may be the case in the center of our galaxy," lead study author Howard Chen, a postdoctoral candidate in the Northwestern University Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences, said in the statement.

In the study, the researchers examined the environment surrounding Sagittarius A*, the 4-million-solar-mass supermassive black hole that lurks in the center of our galaxy, around 25,000 light-years from Earth.

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"We wondered what these outbursts from Sagittarius A* would do to any planets in its vicinity," study co-author John Forbes, of the CfA, said in the statement. "Our work shows the black hole could dramatically change a planet's life."

Specifically, the researchers studied the effect that the high-energy radiation from Sagittarius A* has on exoplanets that are located less than 70 light-years from the black hole and have masses somewhere between Earth's and Neptune's. These exoplanets can be known as "super-Earths" because they are bigger than our rocky, oceanic Earth, or "mini-Neptunes" because they are smaller than the cold, gas-shrouded Neptune.

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The new study shows that the high-energy radiation from Sagittarius A* could blow away a large amount of the thick, gaseous atmosphere of Neptune-like planets near the black hole and leave behind rocky super-Earths, according to the statement.

"These super-Earths are one of the most common types of planet that astronomers have discovered outside our solar system," study co-author Avi Loeb, of the CfA, said in the statement....
(Excerpt) Read more at: Live Science
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