Color Classification of Extrasolar Giant Planets: Prospects and Cautions

Natasha E. Batalha, Adam J.R.W. Smith, Nikole K. Lewis, Mark S. Marley, Jonathan J. Fortney, Bruce MacIntosh

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

16 Scopus citations


Atmospheric characterization of directly imaged planets has thus far been limited to ground-based observations of young, self-luminous, Jovian planets. Near-term space- and ground- based facilities like WFIRST and ELTs will be able to directly image mature Jovian planets in reflected light, a critical step in support of future facilities that aim to directly image terrestrial planets in reflected light (e.g., HabEx, LUVOIR). These future facilities are considering the use of photometry to classify planets. Here, we investigate the intricacies of using colors to classify gas-giant planets by analyzing a grid of 9120 theoretical reflected light spectra spread across different metallicities, pressureerature profiles, cloud properties, and phase angles. We determine how correlated these planet parameters are with the colors in the WFIRST photometric bins and other photometric bins proposed in the literature. Then we outline under what conditions giant planet populations can be classified using several supervised multivariate classification algorithms. We find that giant planets imaged in reflected light can be classified by metallicity with an accuracy of >90% if they are a prior known to not have significant cloud coverage in the visible part of the atmosphere, and at least three filter observations are available. If the presence of clouds is not known a priori, directly imaged planets can be more accurately classified by their cloud properties, as oppposed to metallicity or temperature. Furthermore, we are able to distinguish between cloudy and cloud-free populations with >90% accuracy with three filter observations. Our statistical pipeline is available on GitHub and can be extended to optimize science yield of future mission concepts.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number158
JournalAstronomical Journal
Issue number4
StatePublished - Oct 2018
Externally publishedYes


  • planets and satellites: atmospheres
  • planets and satellites: gaseous planets
  • statistical
  • techniques: spectroscopic

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


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