Icy Worlds

Reflected Light Observations Of The Galilean Satellites From Cassini: A Testbed For Cold Terrestrial Exoplanets

By Keith Cowing
Press Release
September 16, 2020
Filed under
Reflected Light Observations Of The Galilean Satellites From Cassini: A Testbed For Cold Terrestrial Exoplanets
The Lomb-Scargle periodograms for each moon from top to bottom in the filters of VIO, BL1, GRN, RED, CB2, and CB3. The black solid dashes indicate the known period and half the known period. The gray dotted line marks the measured peak in the periodogram. The gray horizontal line marks the 1% false alarm probability. The rotation periods are well recovered without a phase angle correction in VIO, GRN, RED, with the exception of Callisto. Recovering the rotation period of Callisto (and in other filters) is stymied by the observational baseline being too short and/or poor sampling.

For terrestrial exoplanets with thin atmospheres or no atmospheres, the surface contributes light to the reflected light signal of the planet.

Measurement of the variety of disk-integrated brightnesses of bodies in the Solar System and the variation with illumination and wavelength is essential for both planning imaging observations of directly imaged exoplanets and interpreting the eventual datasets. Here we measure the change in brightness of the Galilean satellites as a function of planetocentric longitude, illumination phase angle, and wavelength. The data span a range of wavelengths from 400-950nm and predominantly phase angles from 0-25 degrees, with some constraining observations near 60-140 degrees. Despite the similarity in size and density between the moons, surface inhomogeneities result in significant changes in the disk-integrated reflectivity with planetocentric longitude and phase angle.

We find that these changes are sufficient to determine the rotational periods of the moon. We also find that at low phase angles the surface can produce reflectivity variations of 8-36% and the limited high phase angle observations suggest variations will have proportionally larger amplitudes at higher phase angles. Additionally, all the Galilean satellites are darker than predicted by an idealized Lambertian model at the phases most likely to be observed by direct-imaging missions.

If Earth-size exoplanets have surfaces similar to that of the Galilean moons, we find that future direct imaging missions will need to achieve precisions of less than 0.1\,ppb. Should the necessary precision be achieved, future exoplanet observations could exploit similar observation schemes to deduce surface variations, determine rotation periods, and potentially infer surface composition.

L. C. Mayorga, David Charbonneau, D. P. Thorngren

Comments: 21 pages, 7 tables, 15 figures, including machine-readable table, accepted to AJ
Subjects: Earth and Planetary Astrophysics (astro-ph.EP); Instrumentation and Methods for Astrophysics (astro-ph.IM)
Cite as: arXiv:2009.05467 [astro-ph.EP] (or arXiv:2009.05467v1 [astro-ph.EP] for this version)
Submission history
From: Laura Mayorga
[v1] Fri, 11 Sep 2020 14:40:55 UTC (9,497 KB)

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