Magnesium in the atmosphere of the planet HD 209458 b: Observations of the thermosphere-exosphere transition region

A. Vidal-Madjar, C. M. Huitson, V. Bourrier, J. M. Désert, G. Ballester, A. Lecavelier Des Etangs, D. K. Sing, D. Ehrenreich, R. Ferlet, G. Hébrard, J. C. McConnell

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99 Scopus citations


The planet HD 209458 b is one of the most well studied hot-Jupiter exoplanets. The upper atmosphere of this planet has been observed through ultraviolet/optical transit observations with H I observation of the exosphere revealing atmospheric escape. At lower altitudes just below the thermosphere, detailed observations of the Na I absorption line has revealed an atmospheric thermal inversion. This thermal structure is rising toward high temperatures at high altitudes, as predicted by models of the thermosphere, and could reach ~ 10 000 K at the exobase level. Here, we report new near ultraviolet Hubble Space Telescope/Space Telescope Imaging Spectrograph (HST/STIS) observations of atmospheric absorptions during the planetary transit of HD 209458 b. We report absorption in atomic magnesium (Mg I), while no signal has been detected in the lines of singly ionized magnesium (Mg II). We measure the Mg I atmospheric absorption to be 6.2 ± 2.9% in the velocity range from - 62 to - 19 km s-1. The detection of atomic magnesium in the planetary upper atmosphere at a distance of several planetary radii gives a first view into the transition region between the thermosphere and the exobase, where atmospheric escape takes place. We estimate the electronic densities needed to compensate for the photo-ionization by dielectronic recombination of Mg+ to be in the range of 108-109 cm-3. Our finding is in excellent agreement with model predictions at altitudes of several planetary radii. We observe Mg I atoms escaping the planet, with a maximum radial velocity (in the stellar rest frame) of -60 km s-1. Because magnesium is much heavier than hydrogen, the escape of this species confirms previous studies that the planet's atmosphere is undergoing hydrodynamic escape. We compare our observations to a numerical model that takes the stellar radiation pressure on the Mg I atoms into account. We find that the Mg I atoms must be present at up to ~7.5 planetari radii altitude and estimate an Mg I escape rate of ~3 × 107 g s-1. Compared to previous evaluations of the escape rate of H I atoms, this evaluation is compatible with a magnesium abundance roughly solar. A hint of absorption, detected at low level of significance, during the post-transit observations, could be interpreted as a Mg I cometary-like tail. If true, the estimate of the absorption by Mg I would be increased to a higher value of about 8.8 ± 2.1%.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numberA54
JournalAstronomy and astrophysics
StatePublished - Dec 2013


  • Methods: observational
  • Planetary systems
  • Planets and satellites: atmospheres
  • Techniques: spectroscopic

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


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