Probing Exoplanet Atmospheric Properties from Phase Variations and Polarization
Laura Mayorga, NMSU
The study of exoplanets is evolving past simple transit and Doppler method discovery and characterization. One of the many goals of the upcoming mission WFIRST-AFTA is to directly image giant exoplanets with a coronagraph. We undertake a study to determine the types of exoplanets that missions such as WFIRST will encounter and what instruments these missions require to best characterize giant planet atmospheres. We will first complete a benchmark study of how Jupiter reflects and scatters light as a function of phase angle. We will use Cassini flyby data from late 2000 to measure Jupiter’s phase curve, spherical albedo, and degree of polarization. Using Jupiter as a comparison, we will then study a sample of exoplanet atmosphere models generated to explore the atmospheric parameter space of giant planets and estimate what WFIRST might observe. Our study will provide valuable refinements to Jupiter-like models of planet evolution and atmospheric composition. We will also help inform future missions of what instruments are needed to characterize similar planets and what science goals will further our knowledge of giant worlds in our universe.
The Chemical History and Evolution of Titan’s Atmosphere as Revealed by ALMA
Saturn’s largest moon, Titan, possesses a substantial atmosphere containing significant minorities of nitrile and hydrocarbon species, predominantly due to the photodissociation of the major gases, N2 and CH4. Titan’s methane cycle, liquid lakes, and complex organic chemistry make it an intriguing target through its similarities to Earth and the allure of its astrobiological potential. Though the existence of heavy nitrile species – such as CH3C3N, HC5N, and C3H7CN – has been inferred through Cassini Ion and Neutral Mass Spectrometer (INMS) data, confirmation of these species has yet to be made spectroscopically. Other hydrocarbon species, such as C3H4 and C3H8 have been detected using Voyager’s Infrared Spectrometer (IRIS; Maguire et al., 1981) and later mapped by the Composite Infrared Spectrometer (CIRS; Nixon et al., 2013) onboard Cassini, but abundance constraints for these species in the mesosphere is poor. To fully understand the production of these species and their spatial distribution in Titan’s atmosphere, vertical abundance profiles must be produced to use with current photochemical models. Utilizing early science calibration images of Titan obtained with the Atacama Large Millimeter/Submillimeter Array (ALMA), Cordiner et al. (2014; 2015) determined the vertical distribution of various nitriles and hydrocarbons in Titan’s atmosphere, including at least one previously undetected molecule – C2H5CN. For my dissertation project, I will calibrate and model sub-millimeter emissions from molecules in Titan’s atmosphere, and quantify variations in the spatial distribution of various species throughout its seasonal cycle by utilizing high resolution ALMA data. The main goals of this project are as follows:
1. To search for previously undetected molecules in Titan’s atmosphere through analysis of the existing public ALMA data, and/or through ALMA proposals of my own;
2. Constrain abundance profiles of detected molecular species, and provide upper abundance limits for those we cannot detect;
3. Map the spatial distribution of detected species in order to improve our understanding of Titan’s atmospheric transport and circulation;
4. Determine how these spatial distributions change over Titan’s seasonal cycle by utilizing multiple years of public ALMA data.
The majority of this work will employ the Non-linear Optimal Estimator for MultivariatE Spectral analySIS (NEMESIS) software package, developed by Oxford University (Irwin et al., 2008), to retrieve abundance and temperature information through radiative transfer models. These results will allow us to investigate the chemical evolution and history of Titan’s rich, pre-biotic atmosphere by providing valuable abundance measurements and constraints to molecular photochemical and dynamical models. We will compare our results with measurements made by the Cassini spacecraft, thereby enhancing the scientific return from both orbiter and ALMA datasets. The increased inventory of complex, organic molecules observable with ALMA’s sub-mm frequency range and high spatial resolution may also yield detections of species fundamental to the formation of living organisms, such as amino acids. Thus, by informing photochemical and dynamical models and increasing our known inventory of complex molecular species, we will also assess Titan’s potential habitability.
Utilizing Planetary Oscillations to Constrain the Interior Structure of the Jovian Planets
Seismology has been the premier tool of study for understanding the
interior structure of the Earth, the Sun, and even other stars. Yet in this
thesis proposal, we wish to utilize these tools to understand the interior
structure of the Jovian planets, Saturn in particular. Recent observations
of spiral density structures in Saturn’s rings caused by its oscillations
have provided insight into which modes exist within Saturn and at what
frequencies. Utilizing these frequencies to compare to probable mode can-
didates calculated from Saturn models will also us to ascertain the interior
profiles of state variables such as density, sound speed, rotation, etc. Using
these profiles in a Saturn model, coupled with tweaking the interior struc-
ture of the model, i.e. the inclusion of stably stratified regions, should
allow us to explain which modes are responsible for the density structures
in the rings, as well as predict where to look to find more such structures.
In doing so, we will not only have a much greater understanding of Sat-
urn’s interior structure, but will have constructed a method that can also
be applied to Jupiter once observations of its mode frequencies become
available. In addition, we seek to explain if moist convection on Jupiter is
responsible for exciting its modes. We aim to do this by modeling Jupiter
as a 2D harmonic oscillator. By creating a resonance between moist con-
vective storms and Jovian modes, we hope to match the expected mode
energies and surface displacements of Jupiter’s oscillations.
Outer Planets Update
Dr. Amy Simon, NASA
The Hubble Outer Planet Atmospheres Legacy (OPAL) program is a yearly program for observing each of the outer planets over two full rotations. Observations began with Uranus in 2014, adding Neptune and Jupiter in 2015 (Saturn will be included in 2018, after the end of the Cassini mission). These observations have provided interesting new discoveries in their own right, but are also now being combined with observations from a number of facilities, including NASA’s IRTF, Keck, the VLA, as well as the Kepler and Spitzer missions to further expand the breadth of science they contain. This talk will cover the latest observations for each of these planets and what we are learning from these data sets.