Vulcan planets: Inside-out formation of the innermost super-earths

Sourav Chatterjee, Jonathan C. Tan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

33 Scopus citations


The compact multi-transiting systems discovered by Kepler challenge traditional planet formation theories. These fall into two broad classes: (1) formation further out followed by migration and (2) formation in situ from a disk of gas and planetesimals. In the former, an abundance of resonant chains is expected, which the Kepler data do not support. In the latter, required disk mass surface densities may be too high. A recently proposed mechanism hypothesizes that planets form in situ at the pressure trap associated with the dead-zone inner boundary (DZIB) where radially drifting "pebbles" accumulate. This scenario predicts planet masses (Mp) are set by the gap-opening process that then leads to DZIB retreat, followed by sequential, inside-out planet formation (IOPF). For typical disk accretion rates, IOPF predictions for Mp , Mp versus orbital radius r, and planet-planet separations are consistent with observed systems. Here we investigate the IOPF prediction for how the masses, Mp, 1, of the innermost ("Vulcan") planets vary with r. We show that for fiducial parameters, Mp, 1 ≃ 5.0(r/0.1 AU) M, independent of the disk's accretion rate at time of planet formation. Then, using Monte Carlo sampling of a population of these innermost planets, we test this predicted scaling against observed planet properties, allowing for intrinsic dispersions in planetary densities and Kepler's observational biases. These effects lead to a slightly shallower relation Mp,1 ∝ r0.9 ± 0.2, which is consistent with Mp, 1 ∝ r0.7 ± 0.2 of the observed Vulcans. The normalization of the relation constrains the gap-opening process, favoring relatively low viscosities in the inner dead zone.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numberL32
JournalAstrophysical Journal Letters
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jan 1 2015


  • methods: analytical
  • planets and satellites: formation
  • planets and satellites: general
  • protoplanetary disks

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


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