skip to main content

This content will become publicly available on May 18, 2024

Title: Photochemically produced SO2 in the atmosphere of WASP-39b

Photochemistry is a fundamental process of planetary atmospheres that regulates the atmospheric composition and stability1. However, no unambiguous photochemical products have been detected in exoplanet atmospheres so far. Recent observations from the JWST Transiting Exoplanet Community Early Release Science Program2,3found a spectral absorption feature at 4.05 μm arising from sulfur dioxide (SO2) in the atmosphere of WASP-39b. WASP-39b is a 1.27-Jupiter-radii, Saturn-mass (0.28 MJ) gas giant exoplanet orbiting a Sun-like star with an equilibrium temperature of around 1,100 K (ref. 4). The most plausible way of generating SO2in such an atmosphere is through photochemical processes5,6. Here we show that the SO2distribution computed by a suite of photochemical models robustly explains the 4.05-μm spectral feature identified by JWST transmission observations7with NIRSpec PRISM (2.7σ)8and G395H (4.5σ)9. SO2is produced by successive oxidation of sulfur radicals freed when hydrogen sulfide (H2S) is destroyed. The sensitivity of the SO2feature to the enrichment of the atmosphere by heavy elements (metallicity) suggests that it can be used as a tracer of atmospheric properties, with WASP-39b exhibiting an inferred metallicity of about 10× solar. We further point out that SO2also shows observable features at ultraviolet and thermal infrared wavelengths not available from the existing observations.

more » « less
Award ID(s):
Author(s) / Creator(s):
; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; more » ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; « less
Publisher / Repository:
Date Published:
Journal Name:
Page Range / eLocation ID:
483 to 487
Medium: X
Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
More Like this
  1. Abstract The near-infrared transmission spectrum of the warm sub-Neptune exoplanet GJ 1214 b has been observed to be flat and featureless, implying a high metallicity atmosphere with abundant aerosols. Recent JWST MIRI Low Resolution Spectrometer observations of a phase curve of GJ 1214 b showed that its transmission spectrum is flat out into the mid-infrared. In this paper, we use the combined near- and mid-infrared transmission spectrum of GJ 1214 b to constrain its atmospheric composition and aerosol properties. We generate a grid of photochemical haze models using an aerosol microphysics code for a number of background atmospheres spanning metallicities from 100 to 1000× solar, as well as a steam atmosphere scenario. The flatness of the combined data set largely rules out atmospheric metallicities ≤300× solar due to their large corresponding molecular feature amplitudes, preferring values ≥1000× solar and column haze production rates ≥10 −10 g cm −2 s −1 . The steam atmosphere scenario with similarly high haze production rates also exhibits sufficiently small molecular features to be consistent with the transmission spectrum. These compositions imply that atmospheric mean molecular weights ≥15 g mol −1 are needed to fit the data. Our results suggest that haze production is highly efficient on GJ 1214 b and could involve non-hydrocarbon, non-nitrogen haze precursors. Further characterization of GJ 1214 b’s atmosphere would likely require multiple transits and eclipses using JWST across the near- and mid-infrared, potentially complemented by ground-based high-resolution transmission spectroscopy. 
    more » « less
  2. Abstract

    We present JWST Early Release Science coronagraphic observations of the super-Jupiter exoplanet, HIP 65426b, with the Near-Infrared Camera (NIRCam) from 2 to 5μm, and with the Mid-Infrared Instrument (MIRI) from 11 to 16μm. At a separation of ∼0.″82 (8731+108au), HIP 65426b is clearly detected in all seven of our observational filters, representing the first images of an exoplanet to be obtained by JWST, and the first-ever direct detection of an exoplanet beyond 5μm. These observations demonstrate that JWST is exceeding its nominal predicted performance by up to a factor of 10, depending on separation and subtraction method, with measured 5σcontrast limits of ∼1 × 10−5and ∼2 × 10−4at 1″ for NIRCam at 4.4μm and MIRI at 11.3μm, respectively. These contrast limits provide sensitivity to sub-Jupiter companions with masses as low as 0.3MJupbeyond separations of ∼100 au. Together with existing ground-based near-infrared data, the JWST photometry are fit well by aBT-SETTLatmospheric model from 1 to 16μm, and they span ∼97% of HIP 65426b's luminous range. Independent of the choice of model atmosphere, we measure an empirical bolometric luminosity that is tightly constrained betweenlogLbol/L= −4.31 and −4.14, which in turn provides a robust mass constraint of 7.1 ± 1.2MJup. In totality, these observations confirm that JWST presents a powerful and exciting opportunity to characterize the population of exoplanets amenable to high-contrast imaging in greater detail.

    more » « less
  3. Abstract

    Brown dwarf spectra offer vital testbeds for our understanding of the chemical and physical processes that sculpt substellar atmospheres. Recently, atmospheric retrieval approaches have been successfully applied to low-resolution (R∼ 100) spectra of L, T, and Y dwarfs, yielding constraints on the chemical abundances and temperature structures of these atmospheres. Medium-resolution (R∼ 103) spectra of brown dwarfs offer additional insight, as molecular features are more easily disentangled and the thermal structure of the upper atmosphere is better probed. We present results from a GPU-based retrieval analysis of a high signal-to-noise, medium-resolution (R∼ 6000) FIRE spectrum from 0.85 to 2.5μm of the T9 dwarf UGPS J072227.51–054031.2. At 60× higher spectral resolution than previous brown dwarf retrievals, a number of novel challenges arise. We examine the effect of different opacity sources, in particular for CH4. Furthermore, we find that flaws in the data like errors from order stitching can bias our constraints. We compare these retrieval results to those for anR∼ 100 spectrum of the same object, revealing how constraints on atmospheric abundances and temperatures improve by an order of magnitude or more with increased spectral resolution. In particular, we can constrain the abundance of H2S, which is undetectable at lower spectral resolution. While these medium-resolution retrievals offer the potential of precise, stellar-like constraints on atmospheric abundances (∼0.02 dex), our retrieved radius is unphysically small (R=0.500.01+0.01RJup), indicating shortcomings with our modeling framework. This work is an initial investigation into brown dwarf retrievals at medium spectral resolution, offering guidance for future ground-based studies and JWST observations.

    more » « less
  4. Abstract Photochemical hazes are suspected to obscure molecular features, such as water, from detection in the transmission spectra of exoplanets with atmospheric temperatures <800 K. The opacities of laboratory produced organic compounds (tholins) from Khare et al. have become a standard for modeling haze in exoplanet atmospheres. However, these tholins were grown in an oxygen-free, Titan-like environment that is very different from typical assumptions for exoplanets, where C/O ∼ 0.5. This work presents the 0.13–10 μ m complex refractive indices derived from laboratory transmission measurements of tholins grown in environments with different oxygen abundances. With the increasing uptake of oxygen, absorption increases across the entire wavelength range, and a scattering feature around 6 μ m shifts toward shorter wavelengths and becomes more peaked around 5.8 μ m, due to a C = O stretch resonance. Using GJ 1214 b as a test case, we examine the transmission spectra of a sub-Neptune planet with C/O ratios of solar, 1, and 1000 to evaluate the effective differences between our opacities and those of Khare. For an atmosphere with solar hydrogen and helium abundances, we find a difference of 200–1500 ppm, but for high-metallicity ( Z = 1000) environments, the difference may only be 20 ppm. The 1–2 μ m transmission data for GJ 1214 b rule out the Titan-like haze model, and are more consistent with C/O = 1 and C/O = solar haze models. This work demonstrates that using haze opacities that are more consistent with underlying assumptions about bulk atmospheric composition are important for building self-consistent models that appropriately constrain the atmospheric C/O ratio, even when molecular features are obscured. 
    more » « less
  5. Abstract Recently, the first JWST measurement of thermal emission from a rocky exoplanet was reported. The inferred dayside brightness temperature of TRAPPIST-1 b at 15 μ m is consistent with the planet having no atmosphere and therefore no mechanism by which to circulate heat to its nightside. In this Letter, we compare TRAPPIST-1 b's measured secondary eclipse depth to predictions from a suite of self-consistent radiative-convective equilibrium models in order to quantify the maximum atmospheric thickness consistent with the observation. We find that plausible atmospheres (i.e., those that contain at least 100 ppm CO 2 ) with surface pressures greater than 0.3 bar are ruled out at 3 σ , regardless of the choice of background atmosphere, and a Mars-like thin atmosphere with surface pressure 6.5 mbar composed entirely of CO 2 is also ruled out at 3 σ . Thicker atmospheres of up to 10 bar (100 bar) are consistent with the data at 1 σ (3 σ ) only if the atmosphere lacks any strong absorbers across the mid-IR wavelength range—a scenario that we deem unlikely. We additionally model the emission spectra for bare-rock planets of various compositions. We find that a basaltic, metal-rich, and Fe-oxidized surface best matches the measured eclipse depth to within 1 σ , and the best-fit gray albedo is 0.02 ± 0.11. We conclude that planned secondary eclipse observations at 12.8 μ m will serve to validate TRAPPIST-1 b's high observed brightness temperature, but are unlikely to further distinguish among the consistent atmospheric and bare-rock scenarios. 
    more » « less