Biosignatures & Paleobiology

On Signatures of Clouds in Exoplanetary Transit Spectra

By Keith Cowing
Press Release
May 25, 2017
Filed under
On Signatures of Clouds in Exoplanetary Transit Spectra

Transmission spectra of exoplanetary atmospheres have been used to infer the presence of clouds/hazes. Such inferences are typically based on spectral slopes in the optical deviant from gaseous Rayleigh scattering or low-amplitude spectral features in the infrared.

We investigate three observable metrics that could allow constraints on cloud properties from transmission spectra, namely, the optical slope, the uniformity of this slope, and condensate features in the infrared. We derive these metrics using model transmission spectra considering Mie extinction from a wide range of condensate species, particle sizes, and scale heights. Firstly, we investigate possible degeneracies among the cloud properties for an observed slope. We find, for example, that spectra with very steep optical slopes suggest sulphide clouds (e.g. MnS, ZnS, Na2S) in the atmospheres.

Secondly, (non)uniformities in optical slopes provide additional constraints on cloud properties, e.g., MnS, ZnS, TiO2, and Fe2O3 have significantly non-uniform slopes. Thirdly, infrared spectra provide an additional powerful probe into cloud properties, with SiO2, Fe2O3, Mg2SiO4, and MgSiO3 bearing strong infrared features observable with JWST. We investigate observed spectra of eight hot Jupiters and discuss their implications.

In particular, no single or composite condensate species considered here conforms to the steep and non-uniform optical slope observed for HD 189733b. Our work highlights the importance of the three above metrics to investigate cloud properties in exoplanetary atmospheres using high-precision transmission spectra and detailed cloud models. We make our Mie data publicly available to the community.

Arazi Pinhas, Nikku Madhusudhan
(Submitted on 24 May 2017)
Comments: 20 pages, 7 figures; resubmitted to MNRAS after incorporating referee’s comments
Subjects: Earth and Planetary Astrophysics (astro-ph.EP)
Cite as: arXiv:1705.08893 [astro-ph.EP] (or arXiv:1705.08893v1 [astro-ph.EP] for this version)
Submission history
From: Arazi Pinhas
[v1] Wed, 24 May 2017 18:00:00 GMT (1798kb,D)

Explorers Club Fellow, ex-NASA Space Station Payload manager/space biologist, Away Teams, Journalist, Lapsed climber, Synaesthete, Na’Vi-Jedi-Freman-Buddhist-mix, ASL, Devon Island and Everest Base Camp veteran, (he/him) 🖖🏻