Leonid V. Ksanfomality
Cometary nuclei are small, despite the cosmic scale of the comet tails that they produce. The nuclei have the ability to create rarefied atmospheres, extending as a tail to giant distances comparable to the orbital distances of the planets. Giant tails of comets are sometimes observed for several years and cover a significant part of the sky. The cometary nucleus is capable of continuously renewing tails and supporting the material that is constantly dissipating in space. Large comets do not appear so often that they have become trivial celestial phenomena, but they appear often enough to allow astronomers to complete detailed studies. Many remarkable discoveries, such as the discovery of solar wind, were made during the study of comets. Comets are characterized by great diversity, and their appearance often becomes an ornament of the night sky. Comets have become remote laboratories, where experiments are performed in physical conditions that are not achievable on Earth.
Dmitry V. Bisikalo, Pavel V. Kaygorodov, and Valery I. Shematovich
The history of exoplanetary atmospheres studies is strongly based on the observations and investigations of the gaseous envelopes of hot Jupiters—exoplanet gas giants that have masses comparable to the mass of Jupiter and orbital semi-major axes shorter than 0.1 AU. The first exoplanet around a solar-type star was a hot Jupiter discovered in 1995. Researchers found an object that had completely atypical parameters compared to planets known in the solar system. According to their estimates, the object might have a mass about a half of the Jovian mass and a very short orbital period (four days), which means that it has an orbit roughly corresponding to the orbit of Mercury. Later, many similar objects were discovered near different stars, and they acquired a common name—hot Jupiters. It is still unclear what the mechanism is for their origin, because generally accepted theories of planetary evolution predict the formation of giant planets only at large orbital distances, where they can accrete enough matter before the protoplanetary disc disappears. If this is true, before arriving at such low orbits, hot Jupiters might have a long migration path, caused by interactions with other massive planets and/or with the gaseous disc. In favor of this model is the discovery of many hot Jupiters in elliptical and highly inclined orbits, but on the other hand several observed hot Jupiters have circular orbits with low inclination. An alternative hypothesis is that the cores of future hot Jupiters are super-Earths that may later intercept matter from the protoplanetary disk falling on the star.
The scientific interest in hot Jupiters has two aspects. The first is the peculiarity of these objects: they have no analogues in the solar system. The second is that, until recently, only for hot Jupiters was it possible to obtain observational characteristics of their atmospheres. Many of the known hot Jupiters are eclipsing their host stars, so, from their light curve and spectral data obtained during an eclipse, it became possible to obtain information about their shape and their atmospheric composition.
Thus it is possible to conclude that hot Jupiters are a common type of exoplanet, having no analogues in the solar system. Many aspects of their evolution and internal structure remain unclear. Being very close to their host stars, hot Jupiters must interact with the stellar wind and stellar magnetic field, as well as with stellar flares and coronal mass ejections, allowing researchers to gather information about them. According to UV observations, at least a fraction of hot Jupiters have extended gaseous envelopes, extending far beyond of their upper atmospheres. The envelopes are observable with current astronomical instruments, so it is possible to develop their astrophysical models. The history of hot Jupiter atmosphere studies during the past 20 years and the current status of modern theories describing the extended envelopes of hot Jupiters are excellent examples of the progress in understanding planetary atmospheres formation and evolution both in the solar system and in the extrasolar planetary systems.
Valery I. Shematovich and Dmitry V. Bisikalo
This is an advance summary of a forthcoming article in the Oxford Encyclopedia of Planetary Science. Please check back later for the full article.
The uppermost layers of a planetary atmosphere, where the density of neutral particles is vanishingly low, are commonly called the exosphere or the planetary corona. Since the atmosphere is not completely bound to the planet by the planetary gravitational field, light atoms, such as hydrogen and helium with sufficiently large velocities, can escape from the upper atmosphere into interplanetary space. This process is commonly called Jeans escape, and it depends on the temperature of the ambient atmospheric gas at an altitude where the atmospheric gas is virtually collisionless. The heavier carbon, nitrogen, and oxygen atoms can escape from the atmospheres of the terrestrial planets only through non-thermal processes such as photo- and electron-impact dissociation, charge exchange, atmospheric sputtering, and ion pick-up. Theories of planetary exospheres have been based on ground-based and space observations of emission features such as the 121.6 nm Ly-α and 102.6 nm Ly-β hydrogen lines, the 58.4 nm helium line, and the 130.4 and 135.6 nm atomic oxygen lines. Such observations, together with in situ mass-spectrometer measurements, as at Titan, allow the density and temperature height profiles of the exospheric components to be constructed. The measurements reveal that planetary coronas contain both a fraction of thermal neutral particles with a mean kinetic energy corresponding to the exospheric temperature and a fraction of hot neutral particles with mean kinetic energy much higher than the exospheric temperature. These suprathermal (hot) atoms and molecules are a direct manifestation of the non-thermal processes taking place in the atmospheres. These hot particles lead to the atmospheric escape, determine the coronal structure, produce non-thermal emissions, and react with the ambient atmospheric gas triggering hot atom chemistry.
One of the brightest manifestations of these processes is a formation of hot oxygen corona around terrestrial planets. Oxygen atom is one of the lightest among heavy atmospheric species, so it is a best species to form corona, and another important aspect is that it produces a lot of observational evidence. The transport of suprathermal oxygen atoms to exospheric heights leads to the formation of hot oxygen coronas around Venus, Earth, and Mars. It has been well established by both observations and theoretical calculations that hot oxygen is an important constituent in the transition region between upper thermosphere and exosphere at terrestrial planets.
The study of the planetary coronas is based on direct observations and numerical simulations. It is a rarefied gas, ttherefore, production and transport of suprathermal particles into the corona requires solving a Boltzmann equation or a DSMC simulation. The stochastic simulation method had been widely used to investigate the formation, kinetics, and transport of suprathermal particles in the hot planetary coronas. This approach was first used to study the formation of the hot oxygen geocorona, taking into account the exothermic chemistry and the precipitation of magnetospheric protons and high-energy O+ ions from the ring current. It was found that only atmospheric sputtering results in the formation of the escape flux of energetic oxygen atoms, providing an important source of heavy atoms for the magnetosphere and geospace. A stochastic modeling approach was also applied to study the escape of hot oxygen atoms from the upper atmosphere of Mars and Venus; the kinetics and transport of suprathermal atoms and molecules in the hot oxygen corona at Jovian satellite Europa, which is an example of a highly non-equilibrium near-surface atmosphere; and the hot extended corona at Saturnian satellite Titan, which was directly measured by the spacecraft Cassini.
Kun Wang and Randy Korotev
For thousands of years, people living in Egypt, China, Greece, Rome, and other parts of the world have been fascinated by shooting stars, which are the light and sound phenomena commonly associated with meteorite impacts. The earliest written record of a meteorite fall is logged by Chinese chroniclers in 687
After 200 years, meteoritics (the science of meteorites) has grown out of its infancy and become a vibrant area of research today. The general directions of meteoritic studies are: (1) mineralogy, identifying new minerals or mineral phases that rarely or seldom found on the Earth; (2) petrology, studying the igneous and aqueous textures that give meteorites unique appearances, and providing information about geologic processes on the bodies upon which the meteorites originates; (3) geochemistry, characterizing their major, trace elemental, and isotopic compositions, and conducting interplanetary comparisons; and (4) chronology, dating the ages of the initial crystallization and later on impacting disturbances. Meteorites are the only extraterrestrial samples other than Apollo lunar rocks and Hayabusa asteroid samples that we can directly analyze in laboratories. Through the studies of meteorites, we have quested a vast amount of knowledge about the origin of the Solar System, the nature of the molecular cloud, the solar nebula, the nascent Sun and its planetary bodies including the Earth and its Moon, Mars, and many asteroids. In fact, the 4.6-billion-year age of the whole Solar System is solely defined by the oldest age dated in meteorites, which marked the beginning of everything we appreciate today.
Pluto orbits the Sun at a mean distance of 39.5 AU (astronomical units; 1 AU is the mean distance between the Earth and the Sun), with an orbital period of 248 Earth years. Its orbit is just eccentric enough to cross that of Neptune. They never collide thanks to a 2:3 mean-motion resonance: Pluto completes two orbits of the Sun for every three by Neptune. The Pluto system consists of Pluto and its large satellite Charon, plus four small satellites: Styx, Nix, Kerberos, and Hydra. Pluto and Charon are spherical bodies, with diameters of 2,377 and 1,212 km, respectively. They are tidally locked to one another such that each spins about its axis with the same 6.39-day period as their mutual orbit about their common barycenter. Pluto’s surface is dominated by frozen volatiles nitrogen, methane, and carbon monoxide. Their vapor pressure supports an atmosphere with multiple layers of photochemical hazes. Pluto’s equator is marked by a belt of dark red maculae, where the photochemical haze has accumulated over time. Some regions are ancient and cratered, while others are geologically active via processes including sublimation and condensation, glaciation, and eruption of material from the subsurface. The surfaces of the satellites are dominated by water ice. Charon has dark red polar stains produced from chemistry fed by Pluto’s escaping atmosphere.
The existence of a planet beyond Neptune had been postulated by Percival Lowell and William Pickering in the early 20th century to account for supposed clustering in comet aphelia and perturbations of the orbit of Uranus. Both lines of evidence turned out to be spurious, but they motivated a series of searches that culminated in Clyde Tombaugh’s discovery of Pluto in 1930 at the observatory Lowell had founded in Arizona. Over subsequent decades, basic facts about Pluto were hard-won through application of technological advances in astronomical instrumentation. During the progression from photographic plates through photoelectric photometers to digital array detectors, space-based telescopes, and ultimately, direct exploration by robotic spacecraft, each revealed more about Pluto. A key breakthrough came in 1978 with the discovery of Charon by Christy and Harrington. Charon’s orbit revealed the mass of the system. Observations of stellar occultations constrained the sizes of Pluto and Charon and enabled the detection of Pluto’s atmosphere in 1988. Spectroscopic instruments revealed Pluto’s volatile ices. In a series of mutual events from 1985 through 1990, Pluto and Charon alternated in passing in front of the other as seen from Earth. Observations of these events provided additional constraints on their sizes and albedo patterns and revealed their distinct compositions. The Hubble Space Telescope’s vantage above Earth’s atmosphere enabled further mapping of Pluto’s albedo patterns and the discovery of the small satellites. NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft flew through the system in 2015. Its instruments mapped the diversity and compositions of geological features on Pluto and Charon and provided detailed information on Pluto’s atmosphere and its interaction with the solar wind.
This is an advance summary of a forthcoming article in the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Planetary Science. Please check back later for the full article.
Asteroids 1 Ceres and 4 Vesta are the two largest asteroids in the asteroid belt, with mean diameters of 946 km and 525 km, respectively. Ceres was reclassified as a dwarf planet by the IAU (International Astronomical Union) as a result of their new dwarf planet definition, which is a body that (a) orbits the sun, (b) has enough mass to assume a nearly round shape, (c) has not cleared the neighborhood around its orbit, and (d) is not a moon. Our understanding of these two bodies has been revolutionized in the last decade by the success of the Dawn mission that visited both bodies. Vesta is an example of a small body that has been heated substantially, and differentiated into a metallic core, silicate mantle, and basaltic crust. Ceres is a volatile-rich rocky body that did not experience significant heating and therefore has only partially differentiated. These two contrasting bodies have been instrumental in learning how inner solar system material formed and evolved.