Interaction of close-in planets with the magnetosphere of their host stars. II. Super-earths as unipolar inductors and their orbital evolution

Randy O. Laine, Douglas N.C. Lin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

30 Scopus citations


Planets with several Earth masses and orbital periods of a few days have been discovered through radial velocity and transit surveys. Regardless of their formation mechanism, an important evolution issue is the efficiency of their retention in the proximity of their host stars. If these "super- Earths" attained their present-day orbits during or shortly after the T Tauri phase of their host stars, a large fraction of these planets would have encountered an intense stellar magnetic field. These rocky planets have a higher conductivity than the atmosphere of their host stars and, therefore, the magnetic flux tube connecting them would slip though the envelope of the host stars faster than across the planets. The induced electromotive force across the planet's diameter leads to a potential drop which propagates along a flux tube away from the planet with an Alfvén speed. The foot of the flux tube would sweep across the stellar surface and the potential drop across the field lines drives a DC current analogous to that proposed for the electrodynamics of the Io-Jupiter system. The ohmic dissipation of this current produces potentially observable hot spots in the star envelope. It also heats the planet and leads to a torque which drives the planet's orbit to evolve toward both circularization and a state of synchronization with the spin of the star. The net effect is the damping of the planet's orbital eccentricity. Around slowly (or rapidly) spinning stars, this process also causes rocky planets with periods less than a few days to undergo orbital decay (or expansion/stagnation) within a few Myr. In principle, this effect can determine the retention efficiency of short-period hot Earths. We also estimate the ohmic dissipation interior to these planets and show that it can lead to severe structure evolution and potential loss of volatile material in them. However, these effects may be significantly weakened by the reconnection of the induced field.

Original languageEnglish
Article number2
JournalAstrophysical Journal
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 20 2012


  • magnetohydrodynamics (MHD)
  • planet-star interactions
  • planetary systems
  • planets and satellites: dynamical evolution and stability
  • planets and satellites: formation
  • stars: magnetic field


Dive into the research topics of 'Interaction of close-in planets with the magnetosphere of their host stars. II. Super-earths as unipolar inductors and their orbital evolution'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this