The Effects of Planetary and Stellar Parameters on Brittle Lithospheric Thickness

Paul K. Byrne, Bradford J. Foley, Marie E.S. Violay, Michael J. Heap, Sami Mikhail

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


The thickness of the brittle lithosphere—the outer portion of a planetary body that fails via fracturing—plays a key role in the geological processes of that body. The properties of both a planet and its host star can influence that thickness, and the potential range of those properties exceeds what we see in the Solar System. To understand how planetary and stellar parameters influence brittle lithospheric thickness generally, we modeled a comprehensive suite of combinations of planetary mass, surface and mantle temperature, heat flux, and strain rate. Surface temperature is the dominant factor governing the thickness of the brittle layer: smaller and older planets generally have thick brittle lithospheres, akin to those of Mercury and Mars, whereas larger, younger planets have thinner brittle lithospheres that may be comparable to the Venus lowlands. But certain combinations of these parameters yield worlds with exceedingly thin brittle layers. We predict that such bodies have little elevated topography and limited volatile cycling and weathering, which can be tested by future telescopic observations of known extrasolar planets.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere2021JE006952
JournalJournal of Geophysical Research: Planets
Issue number11
StatePublished - Nov 2021

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Geochemistry and Petrology
  • Geophysics
  • Earth and Planetary Sciences (miscellaneous)
  • Space and Planetary Science


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