CSI papers published: Limits on Clouds and Hazes for the Trappist-1 Planets

Limits on Clouds and Hazes for the Trappist-1 Planets

Limits on Clouds and Hazes for the Trappist-1 Planets by S.E. Moran, and CSI Member Nikole K. Lewis and colleagues, email:  nikole.lewis@cornell.edu

The TRAPPIST-1 planetary system is an excellent candidate for study of the evolution and habitability of M-dwarf hosted planets. Transmission spectroscopy observations performed on the system with the Hubble Space Telescope (HST) suggest that the innermost five planets do not possess clear hydrogen atmospheres. Here we reassess these conclusions with recently updated mass constraints. Additionally, we expand the analysis to include limits on metallicity, cloud top pressure, and the strength of haze scattering. We connect recent laboratory results of  particle size and production rate for exoplanet hazes to a one-dimensional atmospheric model for TRAPPIST-1 transmission spectra. In this way, we obtain a physically-based estimate of haze scattering cross sections. We find haze scattering cross sections on the order of 10 −26 to 10 −19 cm2
are needed in modeled hydrogen-rich atmospheres for TRAPPIST-1 d, e,

and f to match the HST data. For TRAPPIST-1 g, we cannot rule out a clear hydrogen-rich atmosphere. We modeled the effects an opaque cloud deck and substantial heavy element content have on the transmission spectra using the updated mass estimates. We determine that hydrogen-rich atmospheres with high altitude clouds, at pressures of 12 mbar and lower, are consistent with the HST observations for TRAPPIST-1 d and e. For TRAPPIST-1 f and g, we cannot rule out clear hydrogen-rich cases to high confidence. We demonstrate that metallicities of at least 60 × solar with tropospheric (0.1 bar) clouds are in agreement with observations.  Additionally, we provide estimates of the precision necessary for future observations to disentangle degeneracies in cloud top pressure and metallicity. For TRAPPIST-1 e and f, for example, 20 ppm precision is needed to distinguish between a clear atmosphere and an atmosphere with a thick cloud layer at 0.1 bar across a wide range (1 × to 1000 × solar) of metallicity. Our results suggest secondary, volatile-rich atmospheres for the outer TRAPPIST-1 planets d, e, and f.

Nikole Lewis, Astronomy & Planetary Science