Cloud Parameterizations and their Effect on Retrievals of Exoplanet Reflection Spectroscopy

Sagnick Mukherjee, Natasha E. Batalha, Mark S. Marley

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Scopus citations


Future space-based direct imaging missions will perform low-resolution (R < 100) optical (0.3-1 μm) spectroscopy of planets, thus enabling reflected spectroscopy of cool giants. Reflected light spectroscopy is encoded with rich information about the scattering and absorbing properties of planet atmospheres. Given the diversity of clouds and hazes expected in exoplanets, it is imperative that we solidify the methodology to accurately and precisely retrieve these scattering and absorbing properties that are agnostic to cloud species. In particular, we focus on determining how different cloud parameterizations affect resultant inferences of both cloud and atmospheric composition. We simulate mock observations of the reflected spectra from three top-priority direct imaging cool giant targets with different effective temperatures, ranging from 135 to 533 K. We perform retrievals of cloud structure and molecular abundances on these three planets using four different parameterizations, each with an increasing level of cloud complexity. We find that the retrieved atmospheric and scattering properties depend strongly on the choice of cloud parameterization. For example, parameterizations that are too simplistic tend to overestimate the abundances. Overall, we are unable to retrieve precise/accurate gravity beyond ±50%. Lastly, we find that even reflected light spectroscopy with a low signal-to-noise ratio of 5 and low R = 40 gives cursory zeroth-order insights into the position of the cloud deck relative to the molecular and Rayleigh optical depth level.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number158
JournalAstrophysical Journal
Issue number2
StatePublished - Apr 1 2021
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


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