Ionization of extrasolar giant planet atmospheres

Tommi T. Koskinen, James Y.K. Cho, Nicholas Achilleos, Alan D. Aylward

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

40 Scopus citations


Many extrasolar planets orbit close in and are subject to intense ionizing radiation from their host stars. Therefore, we expect them to have strong, and extended, ionospheres. Ionospheres are important because they modulate escape in the upper atmosphere and can modify circulation, as well as leave their signatures, in the lower atmosphere. In this paper, we evaluate the vertical location ZI and extent DI of the EUV ionization peak layer. We find that ZI ≈ 1-10 nbar-for a wide range of orbital distances (a = 0.047-1 AU) from the host star-and DI/Hp ≳ 15, where Hp is the pressure scale height. At ZI, the plasma frequency is ~80-450 MHz, depending on a. We also study global ion transport, and its dependence on a, using a three-dimensional thermosphere-ionosphere model. On tidally synchronized planets with weak intrinsic magnetic fields, our model shows only a small, but discernible, difference in electron density from the dayside to the nightside (~9×1013 m-3 to ~2 × 1012 m -3, respectively) at ZI. On asynchronous planets, the distribution is essentially uniform. These results have consequences for hydrodynamic modeling of the atmospheres of close-in extrasolar giant planets.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)178-187
Number of pages10
JournalAstrophysical Journal
Issue number1
StatePublished - Oct 10 2010


  • Hydrodynamics
  • Magnetohydrodynamics (MHD)
  • Planets and satellites: General
  • Plasmas
  • Turbulence

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


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