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Constraining the atmosphere of GJ 1214b using an optimal estimation technique


Barstow, J K; Aigrain, S; Irwin, P G J; Fletcher, L N; Lee, J M (2013). Constraining the atmosphere of GJ 1214b using an optimal estimation technique. Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, 434(3):2616-2628.

Abstract

We explore cloudy, extended H2-He atmosphere scenarios for the warm super-Earth GJ 1214b using an optimal estimation retrieval technique. This planet, orbiting an M4.5 star only 13 pc from the Earth, is of particular interest because it lies between the Earth and Neptune in size and may be a member of a new class of planet that is neither terrestrial nor gas giant. Its relatively flat transmission spectrum has so far made atmospheric characterization difficult. The Non-linear optimal Estimator for MultivariateE spectral analySIS (NEMESIS) algorithm is used to explore the degenerate model parameter space for a cloudy, H2-He-dominated atmosphere scenario. Optimal estimation is a data-led approach that allows solutions beyond the range permitted by ab initio equilibrium model atmosphere calculations, and as such prevents restriction from prior expectations. We show that optimal estimation retrieval is a powerful tool for this kind of study, and present an exploration of the degenerate atmospheric scenarios for GJ 1214b. Whilst we find a family of solutions that provide a very good fit to the data, the quality and coverage of these data are insufficient for us to more precisely determine the abundances of cloud and trace gases given an H2-He atmosphere, and we also cannot rule out the possibility of a high molecular weight atmosphere. Future ground- and space-based observations will provide the opportunity to confirm or rule out an extended H2-He atmosphere, but more precise constraints will be limited by intrinsic degeneracies in the retrieval problem, such as variations in cloud top pressure and temperature.

We explore cloudy, extended H2-He atmosphere scenarios for the warm super-Earth GJ 1214b using an optimal estimation retrieval technique. This planet, orbiting an M4.5 star only 13 pc from the Earth, is of particular interest because it lies between the Earth and Neptune in size and may be a member of a new class of planet that is neither terrestrial nor gas giant. Its relatively flat transmission spectrum has so far made atmospheric characterization difficult. The Non-linear optimal Estimator for MultivariateE spectral analySIS (NEMESIS) algorithm is used to explore the degenerate model parameter space for a cloudy, H2-He-dominated atmosphere scenario. Optimal estimation is a data-led approach that allows solutions beyond the range permitted by ab initio equilibrium model atmosphere calculations, and as such prevents restriction from prior expectations. We show that optimal estimation retrieval is a powerful tool for this kind of study, and present an exploration of the degenerate atmospheric scenarios for GJ 1214b. Whilst we find a family of solutions that provide a very good fit to the data, the quality and coverage of these data are insufficient for us to more precisely determine the abundances of cloud and trace gases given an H2-He atmosphere, and we also cannot rule out the possibility of a high molecular weight atmosphere. Future ground- and space-based observations will provide the opportunity to confirm or rule out an extended H2-He atmosphere, but more precise constraints will be limited by intrinsic degeneracies in the retrieval problem, such as variations in cloud top pressure and temperature.

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Additional indexing

Item Type:Journal Article, refereed, original work
Communities & Collections:07 Faculty of Science > Institute for Computational Science
Dewey Decimal Classification:530 Physics
Language:English
Date:September 2013
Deposited On:11 Feb 2014 12:21
Last Modified:05 Apr 2016 17:32
Publisher:Oxford University Press
ISSN:0035-8711
Additional Information:This article has been accepted for publication in Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society ©: 2013 The Royal Astronomical Society. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of The Royal Astronomical Society. All rights reserved.
Free access at:Publisher DOI. An embargo period may apply.
Publisher DOI:https://doi.org/10.1093/mnras/stt1204
Permanent URL: https://doi.org/10.5167/uzh-90729

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