A new Search for Carbon Monoxide Absorption in the Transmission Spectrum of the Extrasolar Planet HD 209458b

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Posted: Tuesday, March 22, 2005

image Astrophysics, abstract

From: Drake Deming [view email]
Date: Thu, 16 Dec 2004 19:06:35 GMT   (798kb)
A new Search for Carbon Monoxide Absorption in the Transmission Spectrum of the Extrasolar Planet HD 209458b

Authors: Drake Deming, Timothy M. Brown, David Charbonneau, Joseph Harrington, L. Jeremy Richardson
Comments: 29 pages, 8 figures, accepted for ApJ

We have revisited the search for carbon monoxide absorption features in transmission during the transit of the extrasolar planet HD 209458b. We acquired 1077 high resolution spectra at 2 microns using NIRSPEC on Keck II during three transits. Our sensitivity is sufficient to test the degree of CO absorption in the first overtone bands during transit, based on plausible models of the planetary atmosphere. We compare to theoretical tangent geometry absorption spectra, computed by adding height-invariant ad hoc temperature pertubations to the model atmosphere of Sudarsky et al., and by treating cloud height as an adjustable parameter. We do not detect CO absorption. Our analysis indicates a weakening similar to the case of sodium, suggesting that a general masking mechanism is at work in the planetary atmosphere. If this masking is provided by high clouds, our analysis defines the maximum cloud top pressure (i.e., minimum height) as a function of the model atmospheric temperature. For the relatively hot model used by Charbonneau et al. to interpret their sodium detection, our CO limit requires cloud tops at or above 3.3 mbar, and these clouds must be opaque at a wavelength of 2 microns. High clouds comprised of submicron-sized particles are already present in some models, but may not provide sufficient opacity to account for our CO result. Cooler model atmospheres, having smaller atmospheric scale heights and lower CO mixing ratios, may alleviate this problem to some extent. However, even models 500K cooler that the Sudarsky et al. model require clouds above the 100 mbar level to be consistent with our observations. Our null result therefore requires that clouds exist at an observable level in the atmosphere of HD 209458b, unless this planet is dramatically colder than current belief.
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