A comparison of exoplanet spectroscopic retrieval tools

Waldmann, Ingo P; Rocchetto, Marco; Line, Michael R; Garland, Ryan; Changeat, Quentin and Barstow, Joanna K (2020). A comparison of exoplanet spectroscopic retrieval tools. Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, 493(4) pp. 4884–4909.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1093/mnras/staa548


Over the last several years, spectroscopic observations of transiting exoplanets have begun to uncover information about their atmospheres, including atmospheric composition and indications of the presence of clouds and hazes. Spectral retrieval is the leading technique for interpretation of transmission spectra and is employed by several teams using a variety of forward models and parameter estimation algorithms. However, different model suites have mostly been used in isolation and so it is unknown whether the results from each are comparable. As we approach the launch of the James Webb Space Telescope, we anticipate advances in wavelength coverage, precision, and resolution of transit spectroscopic data, so it is important that the tools that will be used to interpret these information-rich spectra are validated. To this end, we present an intermodel comparison of three retrieval suites: TAUREX, NEMESIS, and CHIMERA. We demonstrate that the forward model spectra are in good agreement (residual deviations on the order of 20-40 ppm), and discuss the results of cross-retrievals among the three tools. Generally, the constraints from the cross-retrievals are consistent with each other and with input values to within 1σ. However, for high precision scenarios with error envelopes of order 30 ppm, subtle differences in the simulated spectra result in discrepancies between the different retrieval suites, and inaccuracies in retrieved values of several σ. This can be considered analogous to substantial systematic/astrophysical noise in a real observation, or errors/omissions in a forward model such as molecular line list incompleteness or missing absorbers.

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