Status Report

Circular polarization signals of cloudy (exo)planets

By SpaceRef Editor
May 23, 2018
Filed under , , ,

Loïc Rossi, Daphne M. Stam
(Submitted on 22 May 2018)

The circular polarization of light that planets reflect is often neglected because it is very small compared to the linear polarization. It could, however, provide information on a planet’s atmosphere and surface, and on the presence of life, because homochiral molecules that are the building blocks of life on Earth are known to reflect circularly polarized light.
We compute $P_c$, the degree of circular polarization, for light that is reflected by rocky (exo)planets with liquid water or sulfuric acid solution clouds, both spatially resolved across the planetary disk and, for planets with patchy clouds, integrated across the planetary disk, for various planetary phase angles $\alpha$.

The optical thickness and vertical distribution of the atmospheric gas and clouds, the size parameter and refractive index of the cloud particles, and $\alpha$ all influence $P_c$. Spatially resolved, $P_c$ varies between $\pm 0.20\%$ (the sign indicates the polarization direction). Only for small gas optical thicknesses above the clouds do significant sign changes (related to cloud particle properties) across the planets’ hemispheres occur. For patchy clouds, the disk–integrated $P_c$ is typically smaller than $\pm 0.025\%$, with maximums for $\alpha$ between $40^\circ$ and $70^\circ$, and $120^\circ$ to $140^\circ$. As expected, the disk–integrated $P_c$ is virtually zero at $\alpha=0^\circ$ and 180$^\circ$. The disk–integrated $P_c$ is also very small at $\alpha \approx 100^\circ$.
Measuring circular polarization signals appears to be challenging with current technology. The small atmospheric circular polarization signal could, however, allow the detection of circular polarization due to homochiral molecules. Confirmation of the detectability of such signals requires better knowledge of the strength of circular polarization signals of biological sources.

Comments:    15 pages, 11 figures, Accepted for publication in Astronomy and Astrophysics
Subjects:    Earth and Planetary Astrophysics (astro-ph.EP)
Cite as:    arXiv:1805.08686 [astro-ph.EP] (or arXiv:1805.08686v1 [astro-ph.EP] for this version)
Submission history
From: Loïc Rossi
[v1] Tue, 22 May 2018 16:03:09 GMT (6674kb,D)

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