Mantle Degassing Lifetimes through Galactic Time and the Maximum Age Stagnant-lid Rocky Exoplanets Can Support Temperate Climates

Cayman T. Unterborn, Bradford J. Foley, Steven J. Desch, Patrick A. Young, Gregory Vance, Lee Chiffelle, Stephen R. Kane

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Scopus citations


The ideal exoplanets to search for life are those within a star's habitable zone. However, even within the habitable zone, planets can still develop uninhabitable climate states. Sustaining a temperate climate over geologic (1/4gigayear) timescales requires a planet to contain sufficient internal energy to power a planetary-scale carbon cycle. A major component of a rocky planet's energy budget is the heat produced by the decay of radioactive elements, especially 40K, 232Th, 235U, and 238U. As the planet ages and these elements decay, this radiogenic energy source dwindles. Here we estimate the probability distribution of the amount of these heat-producing elements that enter into rocky exoplanets through Galactic history by combining the system-to-system variation seen in stellar abundance data with the results from Galactic chemical evolution models. From this, we perform Monte Carlo thermal evolution models that maximize the mantle cooling rate, thus allowing us to create a pessimistic estimate of lifetime a rocky, stagnant-lid exoplanet can support a global carbon cycle through Galactic history. We apply this framework to a sample of 17 likely rocky exoplanets with measured ages, seven of which we predict are likely to be actively degassing today, despite our pessimistic assumptions. For the remaining planets, including those orbiting TRAPPIST-1, we cannot confidently assume that they currently contain sufficient internal heat to support mantle degassing at a rate sufficient to sustain a global carbon cycle or temperate climate without additional tidal heating or undergoing plate tectonics.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numberL6
JournalAstrophysical Journal Letters
Issue number1
StatePublished - May 1 2022

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


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