Terrestrial Planet Formation: Constraining the Formation of Mercury [EPA]


The formation of the four terrestrial planets of the solar system is one of the most fundamental problems in the planetary sciences. However, the formation of Mercury remains poorly understood. We investigated terrestrial planet formation by performing 110 high-resolution N-body simulation runs using more than 100 embryos and 6000 disk planetesimals representing a primordial protoplanetary disk. To investigate the formation of Mercury, these simulations considered an inner region of the disk at 0.2-0.5 au (the Mercury region) and disks with and without mass enhancements beyond the ice line location, aIL, in the disk, where aIL = 1.5, 2.25, and 3.0 au were tested. Although Venus and Earth analogs (considering both orbits and masses) successfully formed in the majority of the runs, Mercury analogs were obtained in only nine runs. Mars analogs were also similarly scarce. Our Mercury analogs concentrated at orbits with a ~ 0.27-0.34 au, relatively small eccentricities/inclinations, and median mass m ~ 0.2 Earth masses. In addition, we found that our Mercury analogs acquired most of their final masses from embryos/planetesimals initially located between 0.2 and ~1-1.5 au within 10 Myr, while the remaining mass came from a wider region up to ~3 au at later times. Although the ice line was negligible in the formation of planets located in the Mercury region, it enriched all terrestrial planets with water. Indeed, Mercury analogs showed a wide range of water mass fractions at the end of terrestrial planet formation.

Read this paper on arXiv…

P. Lykawka and T. Ito
Tue, 7 Mar 17

Comments: 21 pages, 5 figures, 4 tables. Accepted for publication in The Astrophysical Journal