University College London on October 26
Observations of small extrasolar planets with a wide range of densities imply a variety of planetary compositions and structures. Currently, the only technique to measure the bulk composition of extrasolar planetary systems is the analysis of planetary debris accreting on to white dwarfs, analogous to abundance studies of meteorites. We present measurements of the carbon and oxygen abundances in the debris of planetesimals at ten white dwarfs observedwith the Hubble Space Telescope, along with C/O ratios of debris in six systems with previously reported abundances. We find no evidence for carbon-rich planetesimals, with C/O < 0.8 by number in all 16 systems. Our results place an upper limit on the occurrence of carbon-rich systems at <17 per cent with a 2σ confidence level. The range of C/O of the planetesimals is consistent with that found in the Solar system, and appears to follow a bimodal distribution: a group similar to the CI chondrites, with log (< C/O >) = −0.92, and oxygen-rich objects with C/O less than or equal to that of the bulk Earth. The latter group may have a higher mass fraction of water than the Earth, increasing their relative oxygen abundance.