Habitable Zones & Global Climate

Sulfate Aerosol Hazes and SO2 Gas as Constraints on Rocky Exoplanets' Surface Liquid Water

By Keith Cowing
Press Release
August 8, 2019
Filed under
Sulfate Aerosol Hazes and SO2 Gas as Constraints on Rocky Exoplanets' Surface Liquid Water
Sulfate Aerosol Haze

Despite surface liquid water’s importance to habitability, observationally diagnosing its presence or absence on exoplanets is still an open problem.

Inspired within the Solar System by the differing sulfur cycles on Venus and Earth, we investigate thick sulfate (H2SO4-H2O) aerosol haze and high trace mixing ratios of SO2 gas as observable atmospheric features whose sustained existence is linked to the near absence of surface liquid water. We examine the fundamentals of the sulfur cycle on a rocky planet with an ocean and an atmosphere in which the dominant forms of sulfur are SO2 gas and H2SO4-H2O aerosols (as on Earth and Venus).

We build a simple but robust model of the wet, oxidized sulfur cycle to determine the critical amounts of sulfur in the atmosphere-ocean system required for detectable levels of SO2 and a detectable haze layer. We demonstrate that for physically realistic ocean pH values (pH > 6) and conservative assumptions on volcanic outgassing, chemistry, and aerosol microphysics, surface liquid water reservoirs with greater than 10−3 Earth oceans are incompatible with a sustained observable H2SO4-H2O haze layer and sustained observable levels of SO2. Thus, we propose the observational detection of a H2SO4-H2O haze layer and of SO2 gas as two new remote indicators that a planet does not host significant surface liquid water.

Kaitlyn Loftus, Robin D. Wordsworth, Caroline V. Morley
(Submitted on 7 Aug 2019)

Comments: 22 pages, 10 figures, 1 table, submitted to ApJ
Subjects: Earth and Planetary Astrophysics (astro-ph.EP)
Cite as: arXiv:1908.02769 [astro-ph.EP] (or arXiv:1908.02769v1 [astro-ph.EP] for this version)
Submission history
From: Kaitlyn Loftus
[v1] Wed, 7 Aug 2019 18:00:07 UTC (240 KB)

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) 🖖🏻