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On degeneracies in retrievals of exoplanetary transmission spectra

Status Report From: arXiv.org e-Print archive
Posted: Thursday, April 11, 2019

Luis Welbanks, Nikku Madhusudhan

(Submitted on 10 Apr 2019)

Accurate estimations of atmospheric properties of exoplanets from transmission spectra require understanding of degeneracies between model parameters and observations that can resolve them. We conduct a systematic investigation of such degeneracies using a combination of detailed atmospheric retrievals and a range of model assumptions, focusing on H2-rich atmospheres. As a case study, we consider the well-studied hot Jupiter HD 209458 b. We perform extensive retrievals with models ranging from simple isothermal and isobaric atmospheres to those with full pressure-temperature profiles, inhomogeneous cloud/haze coverage, multiple molecular species, and data in the optical-infrared wavelengths. Our study reveals four key insights. First, we find that a combination of models with minimal assumptions and broadband transmission spectra with current facilities allow precise estimates of chemical abundances. In particular, high-precision optical and infrared spectra along with models including variable cloud coverage and prominent opacity sources, Na and K being important in optical, provide joint constraints on cloud/haze properties and chemical abundances. Second, we show that the degeneracy between planetary radius and its reference pressure is well characterised and has little effect on abundance estimates, contrary to previous claims using semi-analytic models. Third, collision induced absorption due to H2-H2 and H2-He interactions plays a critical role in correctly estimating atmospheric abundances. Finally, our results highlight the inadequacy of simplified semi-analytic models with isobaric assumptions for reliable retrievals of transmission spectra. Transmission spectra obtained with current facilities such as HST and VLT can provide strong constraints on atmospheric abundances of exoplanets.

Comments: Accepted for publication in ApJ

Subjects: Earth and Planetary Astrophysics (astro-ph.EP)

Cite as: arXiv:1904.05356 [astro-ph.EP] (or arXiv:1904.05356v1 [astro-ph.EP] for this version)

Submission history

From: Luis Welbanks 

[v1] Wed, 10 Apr 2019 18:00:00 UTC (7,994 KB)

https://arxiv.org/abs/1904.05356

Astrobiology

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