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“Toffee Planets” Hint at Earth’s Cosmic Rarity

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It might not occur to us surface dwellers very often, but rocks can flow—more like the way exceedingly lethargic toothpaste would rather than water. Exposed to the extreme temperatures and pressures that reign in the hellish realms far below our feet, rocks can practically swim—slowly diving down and bobbing up through much of Earth’s subsurface.

For some rocky worlds around other stars, what is true for Earth’s innards may extend right up to the surface. Super-Earths—sometimes rocky exoplanets that are bigger than our pale blue dot but smaller than massive ice giants such as Neptune—have comparatively strong gravitational fields. Thanks to this extreme gravity, some scientists suspect, rocks on such worlds would flow far closer to the surface.

This arrangement would mean rocks that snap, fracture and break might only be found in thin veneers on these exoplanets’ crust. If these rocky super-Earths have thick, Venus-like atmospheres or are especially close to their parent star, they might exhibit no familiarly brittle geology at their surface at all. Instead, says Paul Byrne, a planetary scientist at North Carolina State University and lead author of a study on the Super-Earths, their surface rocks would be strangely malleable over long timescales, flowing a bit like the stretchy, sugary confections on offer in any earthly candy shop.

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Photo from Mark Garlick / Science Photo Library/ Getty Images.

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Click the link below for article:

https://getpocket.com/explore/item/toffee-planets-hint-at-earth-s-cosmic-rarity

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