Quantitatively assessing the role of clouds in the transmission spectrum of GJ 1214b

Caroline V. Morley, Jonathan J. Fortney, Eliza M.R. Kempton, Mark S. Marley, Channon Vissher, Kevin Zahnle

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

134 Scopus citations

Abstract

Recent observations of the super-Earth GJ 1214b show that it has a relatively featureless transmission spectrum. One suggestion is that these observations indicate that the planet's atmosphere is vertically compact, perhaps due to a water-rich composition that yields a large mean molecular weight. Another suggestion is that the atmosphere is hydrogen/helium-rich with clouds that obscure predicted absorption features. Previous models that incorporate clouds have included their effect without a strong physical motivation for their existence. Here, we present model atmospheres of GJ 1214b that include physically motivated clouds of two types. We model the clouds that are present in chemical equilibrium, as has been suggested to occur on brown dwarfs, which include KCl and ZnS for this planet. We also include clouds that form as a result of photochemistry, forming a hydrocarbon haze layer. We use a photochemical kinetics model to understand the vertical distribution and available mass of haze-forming molecules. We model both solar and enhanced-metallicity cloudy models and determine the cloud properties necessary to match observations. In enhanced-metallicity atmospheres, we find that the equilibrium clouds can match the observations of GJ 1214b if they are lofted high into the atmosphere and have a low sedimentation efficiency (f sed = 0.1). We find that models with a variety of hydrocarbon haze properties can match the observations. Particle sizes from 0.01 to 0.25 μm can match the transmission spectrum with haze-forming efficiencies as low as 1%-5%.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number33
JournalAstrophysical Journal
Volume775
Issue number1
DOIs
StatePublished - Sep 20 2013
Externally publishedYes

Keywords

  • planets and satellites: atmospheres
  • planets and satellites: composition
  • planets and satellites: individual (GJ1214b)

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science

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