Unveiling cloudy exoplanets: the influence of cloud model choices on retrieval solutions

Barstow, Joanna K. (2020). Unveiling cloudy exoplanets: the influence of cloud model choices on retrieval solutions. Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, 497(4) pp. 4183–4195.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1093/mnras/staa2219


In recent years, it has become clear that a substantial fraction of transiting exoplanets have some form of aerosol present in their atmospheres. Transit spectroscopy – mostly of hot Jupiters, but also of some smaller planets – has provided evidence for this, in the form of steep downward slopes from blue to red in the optical part of the spectrum, and muted gas absorption features throughout. Retrieval studies seeking to constrain the composition of exoplanet atmospheres must therefore account for the presence of aerosols. However, clouds and hazes are complex physical phenomena, and the transit spectra that are currently available allow us to constrain only some of their properties. Therefore, representation of aerosols in retrieval models requires that they are described by only a few parameters, and this has been done in a variety of ways within the literature. Here, I investigate a range of parameterisations for exoplanet aerosol and their effects on retrievals from transmission spectra of hot Jupiters HD 189733b and HD 209458b. I find that results qualitatively agree for the cloud/haze itself regardless of the parameterisation used, and indeed using multiple approaches provides a more holistic picture; the retrieved abundance of H2O is also very robust to assumptions about aerosols. I also find strong evidence that aerosol on HD 209458b covers less than half of the terminator region, whilst the picture is less clear for HD 189733b.

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