Friday, June 28, 2013

1306.6567 (Joanna K. Barstow et al.)

Constraining the atmosphere of GJ 1214b using an optimal estimation technique    [PDF]

Joanna K. Barstow, Suzanne Aigrain, Patrick G. J. Irwin, Leigh N. Fletcher, Jae-Min Lee
We explore cloudy, extended H2-He atmosphere scenarios for the warm super-Earth GJ 1214b using an optimal estimation retrieval technique. This planet, orbiting an M4.5 star only 13 pc from the Earth, is of particular interest because it lies between the Earth and Neptune in size and may be a member of a new class of planet that is neither terrestrial nor gas giant. Its relatively flat transmission spectrum has so far made atmospheric characterisation difficult. The NEMESIS algorithm (Irwin et al. 2008) is used to explore the degenerate model parameter space for a cloudy, H2-He-dominated atmosphere scenario. Optimal estimation is a data-led approach that allows solutions beyond the range permitted by ab initio equilibrium model atmosphere calculations, and as such prevents restriction from prior expectations. We show that optimal estimation retrieval is a powerful tool for this kind of study, and present an exploration of the degenerate atmospheric scenarios for GJ 1214b. Whilst we find a family of solutions that provide a very good fit to the data, the quality and coverage of these data are insufficient for us to more precisely determine the abundances of cloud and trace gases given an H2-He atmosphere, and we also cannot rule out the possibility of a high molecular weight atmosphere. Future ground- and space-based observations will provide the opportunity to confirm or rule out an extended H2-He atmosphere, but more precise constraints will be limited by intrinsic degeneracies in the retrieval problem, such as variations in cloud top pressure and temperature.
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