Monday, May 20, 2013

1305.4124 (Caroline V. Morley et al.)

Quantitatively Assessing the Role of Clouds in the Transmission Spectrum of GJ 1214b    [PDF]

Caroline V. Morley, Jonathan J. Fortney, Eliza M. -R. Kempton, Mark S. Marley, Channon Visscher, Kevin Zahnle
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 form as a result of condensation in chemical equilibrium, as they likely do 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 (fsed=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 micron can match the transmission spectrum with haze-forming efficiencies as low as 1-5%.
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