A team of scientists from LSU, NASA and Hampton University have come up with a new concept of how the surfaces of rocky planets like Earth are formed.

The scientists say "heat-pipes" move heat from the planets' cores to the surface, melting the layer of rock that lies between the core and the surface, and allowing molten rock to escape. The resulting eruptions lead to global volcanic resurfacing. Older layers of volcanic rock are buried and pushed downward, and this forms thick, cold and strong crust.

Based on the present dynamics of Jupiter's tidally heated moon, Io, the scientists hypothesize that the geological histories of Mercury, Venus, the Moon and Mars, are consistent with formation involving heat-pipes. The scientists say heat-pipe cooling is a universal process that may explain the common features seen on the surfaces of rocky planets.

The team's findings are discussed in a paper recently published in Earth and Planetary Science Letters.

"The terrestrial bodies in our solar system look different enough that the classical view is that they all formed differently, at least in terms of making their outer shells," said Alexander Webb, LSU associate professor. "If our analysis holds merit, it points in the direction of a universal model for the early development of terrestrial planets, across our solar system and beyond."

Co-author Justin Simon, NASA planetary scientist, Center for Isotope Cosmochemistry and Geochronology in the Astromaterials Research and Exploration Science Division, said the concept of the heat-pipe mode of planet formation is important and will help explain the evolution of all rocky planets.

"If shown to be correct, it will be discussed along with the theories of plate tectonics, planetary 'magma oceans' and the 'giant impact theory for the origin of the Moon,'" Simon said.