Compositional Diversity of Rocky Exoplanets

To test whether exoplanets are similar to Earth, knowledge of their host star composition is essential. Stellar elemental abundances and planetary orbital data show that of the ~5,000 known minerals, exoplanetary silicate mantles contain mostly olivine, orthopyroxene, and clinopyroxene, ± quartz and magnesiowüstite at the extremes, while wholly exotic mineralogies are unlikely. Understanding the geology of exoplanets requires a better marriage of geological insights to astronomical data. The study of exoplanets is like a mirror: it reflects our incomplete understanding of Earth and neighboring planets. New geological/planetary experiments, informed by exoplanet studies, are needed for effective progress.

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Why Geosciences and Exoplanetary Sciences Need Each Other

The study of planets outside our Solar System may lead to major advances in our understanding of the Earth and may provide insight into the universal set of rules by which planets form and evolve. To achieve these goals requires applying geoscience’s wealth of Earth observations to fill in the blanks left by the necessarily minimal exoplanetary observations. In turn, many of Earth’s one-offs—plate tectonics, surface liquid water, a large moon, and life; long considered as “Which came first?” conundrums for geoscientists—may find resolution in the study of exoplanets that possess only a subset of these phenomena.

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