Evolution of the Exoplanet Size Distribution: Forming Large Super-Earths Over Billions of Years

June 2021 • 2021AJ....161..265D

Authors • David, Trevor J. • Contardo, Gabriella • Sandoval, Angeli • Angus, Ruth • Lu, Yuxi Lucy • Bedell, Megan • Curtis, Jason L. • Foreman-Mackey, Daniel • Fulton, Benjamin J. • Grunblatt, Samuel K. • Petigura, Erik A.

Abstract • The radius valley, a bifurcation in the size distribution of small, close-in exoplanets, is hypothesized to be a signature of planetary atmospheric loss. Such an evolutionary phenomenon should depend on the age of the star-planet system. In this work, we study the temporal evolution of the radius valley using two independent determinations of host star ages among the California-Kepler Survey (CKS) sample. We find evidence for a wide and nearly empty void of planets in the period-radius diagram at the youngest system ages (≲2-3 Gyr) represented in the CKS sample. We show that the orbital period dependence of the radius valley among the younger CKS planets is consistent with that found among those planets with asteroseismically determined host star radii. Relative to previous studies of preferentially older planets, the radius valley determined among the younger planetary sample is shifted to smaller radii. This result is compatible with an atmospheric loss timescale on the order of gigayears for progenitors of the largest observed super-Earths. In support of this interpretation, we show that the planet sizes that appear to be unrepresented at ages ≲2-3 Gyr are likely to correspond to planets with rocky compositions. Our results suggest that the size distribution of close-in exoplanets and the precise location of the radius valley evolve over gigayears.


IPAC Authors


Benjamin Fulton

Assistant Scientist