Reflected Light Phase Curves in the TESS Era

L. C. Mayorga, Natasha E. Batalha, Nikole K. Lewis, Mark S. Marley

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Scopus citations


The reflected light signal from a planet throughout its orbit is a powerful probe of a planet's atmospheric properties. There are a number of planets that are amenable to reflected light phase curve studies with present and future space-based instrumentation and here we assess our ability to characterize these worlds. Using simulated Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) populations we identify the Nine, a set of archetypal exoplanets with the potential to be bright in reflected light, because of their radii and proximity to their star, while still being cool enough to have minimal thermal contamination at optical wavelengths. For each planet we compute albedo spectra for several cloud and atmosphere assumptions (e.g., thermochemical equilibrium, solar composition). We find that in the TESS bandpass the estimated contrast at optical wavelengths is typically <10 ppm except for the brightest, largest, or closest in planets with the highest lofted clouds where contrast can reach a few tens of parts per million. Meanwhile, in a bluer bandpass (0.3-0.5 μm) the estimated contrast can be as high as 150 ppm but typically 10-50 ppm. In the temperature range of interest, planets with the highest, most extensive cloud decks are generally darker at bluer wavelengths than cloudless planets because of the low single scattering albedos of their primary condensate constituents. Our models suggest that Neptune-sized planets with relatively low insolation and small semimajor axes are the most conducive to reflected light phase curve studies in TESS.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number66
JournalAstronomical Journal
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2019
Externally publishedYes


  • planets and satellites: atmospheres
  • planets and satellites: detection
  • planets and satellites: gaseous planets

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


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