A weather report for the hot Jupiter HD 189733b II.

The weather forecast of HD 189733b is further analyzed by the LEAP team, this time led by Graham Lee. They report further cloud coverage and dynamics in their newly published paper in Astronomy and Astrophysics (Lee et al. 2017).  Learn more about their results from Graham’s summary below.

In part I of this series, we coupled a radiative-hydrodynamic (RHD) atmospheric model to a microphysical cloud formation module. We simulated the atmosphere of the hot Jupiter HD 189733b and found that the planet is likely to host a highly inhomogeneous cloud structure dependent on latitude, longitude and depth of the atmosphere. In our next paper in the series, we compare our results to available Hubble Space Telescope and Spitzer Space Telescope observations of the exoplanet. We do this by post-processing our large scale cloudy RHD results using the Monte Carlo radiative-transfer (MCRT) method.

Figure 1 Images of the simulated planet at 1 micron wavelengths and at a planetary phase of 60o (eastern terminator region). Left: Incident stellar scattered light. Right: Emitted thermal light. The cloud structures are more prominent in the left image and a twilight effect (scattering past the day-night terminator) is present. In the right image the hotter equatorial jet is very recognizable compared to the cooler higher latitude regions and the nightside of the planet. (Lee et al. 2017)

Monte Carlo radiative-transfer in a nutshell

A particular method for radiative-transfer is the Monte Carlo radiative-transfer (MCRT) technique. A MCRT simulation is a 3D stochastic, statistical sampling method of determining the local radiation field in an environment. We track the 3D random walk (or path) of millions of simulated “photon packets” through our 3D RHD simulation results. We do this by sampling a random number which govern the packets interactions with the surrounding medium. For example, if a photon packet undergoes a scattering event with a cloud particle, the new propagation direction of the photon packet is determined by sampling a random number and comparing that number to the “phase function”, which is the probability of the packet being scattered at any one angle (e.g. a random number of 0.1 could correspond to a new path slanted 10 degrees from the original direction). By simulating the path and interactions (scattering, absorption) of many millions of packets, we can count the total amount of energy escaping towards a certain direction and produce synthetic observable properties of our large scale atmospheric model. Figure 1 shows an example output from the MCRT simulations applied to our RHD model.

Figure 2  Albedo of our simulated planet compared to the observational data obtained by Evans et al. (2013). Our model is reasonably consistent with the B-band data but does not predict the drop in albedo at the V-band. Our simulation is able to decompose the effect of the different scattering material present in the atmosphere. Most scattering comes from cloud particles with a small H2 Rayleigh scattering component. (Lee et al. 2017)

Albedo/reflection spectra of HD 189733b simulation

When a transiting planet passes behind its host star, both the emitted light from the planetary atmosphere and reflected incident starlight disappear from the total luminosity of the star and planet system, resulting in a dip in observed flux of the system during the secondary eclipse of the transit. The albedo of a planet is defined as the fraction of incident starlight that is scattered back into space. For example, a planet with an albedo of 0.2 at a wavelength of 300 nm, returns 20 % of the incident star light at 300 nm back into space. The albedos of many hot Jupiter planets have been measured by the Kepler space telescope, and some by the Hubble Space Telescope. Figure 2 shows the albedo of our HD 189733b simulation produced from the MCRT simulation compared to the geometric albedo observations using the Hubble Space Telescope by Evans et al. (2013). We also combine our albedo and emission spectra to compare to dayside observations of HD 18973b from Hubble and Spitzer Space Telescopes (Fig. 3).

Figure 3  Dayside luminosity ratio of our simulated planet compared to HST and Spitzer measurements (Evans et al. 2013, Crouzet et al. 2014, Barstow et al. 2014 and Knutson et al. 2012). Our simulation compares well to the observed trends in the dayside emission spectra. (Lee et al. 2017)

We find that our model is generally consistent with the observations but has some offsets with some data points. However, we do not fit the “V-band” (Visible wavelength range) dip in albedo as observed by the HST measurement. This suggests the presence of an absorbing material present in the atmosphere of HD 189733b which was not accounted for in our modelling. This absorber has been noticed in other hot Jupiter planets and it is currently a mystery what causes these dips in albedo at these wavelengths. Overall though, this general agreement with the observations suggests that the cloud coverage and temperature structures of our large scale simulation are probably a reasonable expectation of the dayside properties of HD 189733b.

Figure 4  TESS and CHEOPS predicted dayside albedos and bandpasses (dashed line). CHEOPS has a larger albedo due to the effect of photons scattered by clouds at optical wavelengths, which TESS is not sensitive too. (Lee et al. 2017)

Predictions for TESS and CHEOPS

We also produce predictions of the geometric albedo and phase curve behaviour of HD 189733b for the upcoming NASA Transiting Exoplanet Space Survey (TESS) and ESA CHaracterising ExOPlanets Satellite (CHEOPS). Figure 4. shows our results shows our TESS and CHEOPS predictions, and includes a Kepler prediction (even though HD 189733b will not be observed by Kepler) for comparisons. We found that our simulated dayside atmosphere would be 10% brighter when viewed by the CHEOPS mission compared to the TESS instruments. This is due to the fact that CHEOPS is more sensitive to the optical scattering component (cloud cover), as TESS is more sensitive to infra-red thermal emission from the planet. By comparing the albedos and phase curves between the CHEOPS and TESS instruments, an idea of the extent of the cloud coverage on the observed planet may be inferred. This may be useful for helping decide which planets to observe with more time limited spectroscopic instruments such as the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST).

Figure 5  RGB channel GIF of the incident scattered light varying with planetary phase. The real planet is probably slightly bluer than the brownish colour presented here due to an unknown absorber at visible wavelengths (See Fig. 2; Lee et al. 2017).

RGB channel phase curves

Lastly, we produced a RGB channel phase curve output using the albedo results. This is provided in GIF form in Fig. 5. The real planet is likely to be slightly bluer than the reddish brown colour presented due to the unknown V-band reducing the R channel’s magnitudes.

For more details check out the original paper on ADS:

G. Lee, K. Wood, I. Dobbs-Dixon, A. Rice, Ch. Helling, 2017, A&A, 601, A22

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A weather report for the hot Jupiter HD 189733b I.

One of the most prominent and visual features of weather phenomena on Earth are water clouds which govern a large part of Earth’s climate. In Lee et al. (2016), the first of a series of papers, we investigated what the atmosphere of the hot Jupiter exoplanet HD 189733b may look like, in particular what the properties of clouds that maybe present in the atmosphere are. We used a computer simulation of the atmosphere of the hot Jupiter exoplanet HD 189733b including, for the first time, a microphysical description of 3D cloud particle behaviour in the atmosphere.

Simulating a cloudy exoplanet atmosphere.

A major tool for the exploration of the properties of Earth, Solar System and Exoplanet atmospheres are the use of Radiative-Hydrodynamic (RHD) or Global Circulation Models (GCM). These models simulate the temperature, pressure and other important properties of an atmosphere by evolving the equations of geophysical fluid dynamics, representing the large scale motions or “winds” of the atmosphere. The motions of the atmosphere depend on numerous factors such as the rotation rate, which affects the fluid flows primarily through the Coriolis force; pressure gradients, causing flows of gas. These models also take into account the heating from an external source onto the atmosphere, primarily radiation from the host star of the exoplanet. For hot Jupiter atmospheres, the intense effect of heating on dayside of the planet has large consequences on the specific weather properties, driven primarily from the large temperature differences between dayside and nightside regions of the planet.

The number density of cloud particles at 1 mbar pressure in the HD 189733b simulation. A build up of material at the equator near 270 degrees longitude is seen. Arrows show the direction and strength of the atmospheric flow. The dynamics is dominated by the strong super sonic equatorial jet which efficiently transports cloud particles around the globe.

Figure 1. The number density of cloud particles at 1 mbar pressure in the HD 189733b simulation. A build up of material at the equator near 270 degrees longitude is seen. Arrows show the direction and strength of the atmospheric flow. The dynamics is dominated by the strong super sonic equatorial jet which efficiently transports cloud particles around the globe (Lee et al. 2016).

In our study we used the RHD model from Dobbs-Dixon & Agol (2013) of the hot Jupiter HD 189733b and coupled it to our microphysical based cloud formation model, the details of which can be found in our numerous other blog posts (here and here). We found that our simulated cloud structures varied significantly in latitude, longitude and depth of the atmosphere. Cloud particles were more numerous of the nightside of the planet compared to the dayside regions, primarily due to the fast winds flowing from the dayside to the nightside slowing down as they approached the western terminator region. This creates a “traffic jam” effect, where cloud particles pile up on the western terminator nightside (Fig. 1).

The average cloud particle size in micron at 10 mbar pressure in the HD 189733b simulation. A large difference in cloud particle sizes between dayside and nightside as well as latitude is apparent.

Figure 2. The average cloud particle size in micron at 10 mbar pressure in the HD 189733b simulation. A large difference in cloud particle sizes between dayside and nightside as well as latitude is apparent (Lee et al. 2016).

Cloud particle sizes were also very different from the dayside to the nightside. On the dayside, the hotter temperatures evaporate the more volatile Magnesium containing materials MgSiO3 and Mg2SiO4, while these materials are stable on the nightside of the planet. This leads to different particles sizes, smaller particles of ~nm sizes on much of the dayside and ~μm sized particles on the nightside (Fig. 2).

Latitudinal differences in cloud particle size are also seen, with the hot equatorial super-sonic jet containing no Mg containing materials, and only the very stable TiO2 and SiO2 minerals. Higher latitudes, where it is cooler, contained ~90%+ Mg bearing materials. In our simulations we see bands of different materials dependent on the atmospheric properties, similar to how the bands of different materials on Jupiter colour different bands.

A collage of atmospheric properties at the equator of the simulated planet. The radial numbers denote the atmospheric pressure in log_10 bar. Numbers on the outside of the ring denote longitude. Top row: Gas temperature, cloud particle number density, cloud particle mean radius. Middle: TiO2 abundance, SiO abundance, SiO2 abundance. Bottom: MgSiO3 abundance, Mg2SiO4 abundance. Clear differences in the cloud properties can be seen in longitude and depth. For example, the dayside of the planet contains a large region of TiO2, while the nightside has more silicate materials present (Lee et al. 2016).

Figure 3. A collage of atmospheric properties at the equator of the simulated planet. The radial numbers denote the atmospheric pressure in log_10 bar. Numbers on the outside of the ring denote longitude. Top row: Gas temperature, cloud particle number density, cloud particle mean radius. Middle: TiO2 abundance, SiO abundance, SiO2 abundance. Bottom: MgSiO3 abundance, Mg2SiO4 abundance. Clear differences in the cloud properties can be seen in longitude and depth. For example, the dayside of the planet contains a large region of TiO2, while the nightside has more silicate materials present (Lee et al. 2016).

Overall, our results show that we can expect very cloudy, dynamic weather on HD 189733b, with cloud particles evaporating and condensing constantly as they are pushed along with the winds from dayside to nightside. However, unlike the temperate conditions on Earth, these cloud particles would be travelling at super-sonic speeds, dwarfing by magnitudes the most violent hail storms found on Earth.

In part II of our weather report, we will look at simulating the observable properties of our RHD modelling results and comparing our modelling efforts to Hubble Space Telescope and Spitzer Space Telescope data of HD 189733b.

For more details check out the original paper on ADS:

G. Lee, I. Dobbs-Dixon, Ch. Helling, K. Bognar, P. Woitke, 2016, A&A, 594, A48

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Carbon planets and diamond clouds

Could diamond planets exist? Probably not, but what about carbon-planets in more general terms? So far, almost all discovered planets were oxygen-rich. The quest about carbon-rich planets touches fundamental question of astrophysics, including how stars formed in the early universe and how planets form in disks around young stars. Ultimately and somewhat surprisingly perhaps, we are required to understand what kind of clouds form in atmospheres of carbon-rich planets in order to disentangle existing observations or to predict possible observations, because clouds do act like an optical and a thermal blanket to the planet below it. Therefore, Helling, Tootill, Woitke & Lee (2016) set out to model cloud formation in carbon-rich atmospheres. They find that the material composition and, hence, the appearance of carbon-rich planets (possibly WASP-12b or HR 8799 b, c, d, e) drastically differs from the well-studied oxygen-rich giant gas planets (like HD 189733b or HD 209458b). They show, that only the very inner parts of a carbon-cloud could possibly be made of diamond crystals, making it a rather darkish type of planet.

Stars come with all sorts of chemical ‘tastes’: Those with more oxygen than carbon (called ‘oxygen-rich’), and those with more carbon than oxygen (called ‘carbon-rich’). Stars in the present universe are born as oxygen-rich and only change to carbon-rich at later stages in their life-time when they become giant stars with diameters of hundreds of stellar radii. Therefore, extrasolar planets are expected to be oxygen-rich.

Observations start to indicate that some extrasolar planets maybe carbon-rich, or at least have enough carbon-molecules in their atmospheres so that our telescopes can see them. For example, WASP-12b was suggested to be carbon- rich (Madhusudhan et al. 2011) but a second observation could not confirm that finding (Kreidberg et al. 2015). Four planets of the planetary system HR 8799 have tentative detections of C2H2, CH4, and CO2, all rather large carbon-binding molecules (Opennheimer et al. 2013).

Planets only form in disks around young stars and young stars are oxygen-rich. Stars only turn carbon-rich at later ages. So, why should carbon-rich planets exist at all?

Figure 1: The top panels show the material composition that we predict from our cloud models in per cent: 1.0 means that the cloud particles are made to 100% of this material (e.g. Al2O3 – light blue, carbon – grey) and 0.2 means that the cloud particles contain 20% of that material (e.g. Mg2SiO4 or MgSiO3 – yellow/orange). Different lines represent different materials. The lower pictures visualize how the cloud would look like if we were able to observe it more closely: An oxygen-rich giant planet (left) would sparkle in different colours while a carbon-rich planet would look rather dull and dark-grey.

Figure 1: The top panels show the material composition that we predict from our cloud models in per cent: 1.0 means that the cloud particles are made to 100% of this material (e.g. Al2O3 – light blue, carbon – grey) and 0.2 means that the cloud particles contain 20% of that material (e.g. Mg2SiO4 or MgSiO3 – yellow/orange). Different lines represent different materials. The lower pictures visualize how the cloud would look like if we were able to observe it more closely: An oxygen-rich giant planet (left) would sparkle in different colours while a carbon-rich planet would look rather dull and dark-grey (Helling et al. 2016).

Here are three ideas how this could work:

1) Extremely carbon-rich stars formed in very early universe (Mashian & Loeb 2016). These carbon-rich stars were young at some point and may therefore have formed carbon-rich planets. The problem with that hypothesis is that our Sun is oxygen-rich and not that old. The Sun is a young star compared to the stars we know of in our present universe. It is therefore highly unlikely that any presently observable carbon-rich planet has formed in the early universe.

2) Carbon-rich stars in our present-day universe bath their originally oxygen- rich planets in a strong wind that carries large amounts of carbon-rich gas and dust. As this wind continues to hit the planets atmosphere, it increases slowly but steady its carbon content and appear as carbon-rich at some point. The obvious conclusion is that all carbon-rich stars with strong mass losses should have carbon-rich planets. This has not been observed so far.

What are we left with? We need to take a closer look at the star and planet formation processes and see whether chemical niches appear that allow us to explain the possible emergence of carbon-rich planets or episodes of carbon- enrichment. In other words, we need to study how the local chemistry changes in planet-forming disks that emerge around young stars in order to conserve the angular momentum of the collapsing gas-cloud that will form a young star. This local chemistry will play a large role in determining what kind of planets will form in such disks. Hence, the beauty lies in the detail.

Knowing about the problem, we have merged our expertise in atmosphere modelling (Christiane Helling) and planet-forming disk modelling (Peter Woitke). Through this work, published in the Life journal in 2014, we realized that we need to understand cloud formation a lot better in order to be able to say if the chemical composition of a planetary atmosphere would be carbon-rich or oxygen-rich.

In Helling, Tootill, Woitke & Lee 2016 we worked out a model that would allow us to predict how clouds form in carbon- rich atmospheres. The oxygen-rich case was well studied already and we could build on our experiences with it.

Figure 1 visualises our main results. The left-hand panel shows the results for the cloud layer that forms in an oxygen-rich atmosphere of a planet, the right-hand side shows the cloud forming in the carbon-rich planet. Here are the three main observations from Figure 1:

a) Clouds in oxygen-rich atmospheres are made of 40% silicates like Mg2SiO4 and MgSiO3, 20% SiO, 10% iron, with the remaining 30% being a mix of other materials.

b) Clouds in carbon-rich planets would be made of a minimum of 60% carbon with the remaining 40% (or less!) being a mix of other carbon-binding materials and iron.

c) While silicate clouds in oxygen-rich atmospheres are semi-transparent at the top and dark further inside, carbon-clouds are graphite-black at the top and diamond-clear further inside.

It appears that an oxygen-rich planet with strong winds should be much more beautiful to observe because many mineral cloud particles could appear in many colours. Carbon-rich planets would look rather dull and grey in comparison.

For more details check out the original paper on ADS:

Helling, Tootill, Woitke & Lee 2016, eprint arXiv:1612.01863

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The mineral clouds on the extrasolar giant gas planets HD 209458b and HD 189733b

The giant gas planets HD 189733b and HD 209458b are the two most studied extrasolar planets today. Both have been observed by several research groups with varies telescopes including the Hubble and the Spitzer Space Telescopes, and the super-high-precision HARPS spectrograph mounted on the 3.6 m telescope in La Silla in Chile. These extensive observational programs have reviled details about the atmospheres of these planets, like for example the presence of CO and CH4 in HD 189733b and CO and H2O in HD 209458b. Observations have further established that both gas giants form clouds inside their atmospheres (e.g. Sing et al. 2016). Are these clouds similar to clouds on Earth? What are they made of? Why does HD 209458b seem to have more water vapour than HD 189733b? How different are clouds between the two planets?

We use results from 3D radiative-hydrodynamics simulations of the atmospheres of HD 189733b and HD 209458b to answer the above questions and to derive cloud characteristics. We apply the same ideas about cloud formation as described in our Drift-Phoenix post. First, condensation seeds form with a certain efficiency. Once they are present, many solid materials (e.g. MgSiO3[s], Fe[s], SiO[s], TiO2[s], [s] meaning solid phase) can condense on these numerous but small surfaces. As these cloud particles grow, they fall into the atmosphere (gravitational settling). These raining cloud particles will encounter changing ambient conditions because the gas temperature and the gas pressure increase inwards the atmosphere. On their way, the cloud particles change in size but also in composition.

We now probe the atmospheric cloud formation in HD 189733b and HD 209458b by calculating the cloud structure for the vertical atmosphere at different longitudes and latitudes shown on Fig. 1.

Figure1. Points in the atmosphere where cloud formation was probed

Figure 1. Points in the atmosphere where cloud formation was probed

We find that both planets have the smallest cloud particles near the top of the cloud and the largest cloud particles at the bottom of the cloud, which is far inside the atmosphere beyond observable heights. This can be seen from the black solid line in all the panels in Fig 2.

Figure 2 demonstrates the vertical cloud structures for the daysides of the giant gas planets HD 189733b (top) and HD 209458b (bottom). We show how the material composition changes with height for different latitudes (Φ=270°, 315°, 0°, 45°, 90°) along the equator. The material composition is visualized by the lines of different colours, representing one material each: TiO2[s] – solid dark blue, Al2O3[s] – solid blue, CaTiO2[s] – solid purple, Fe2O3[s] – dashed light green, Fe[s] – dotted green, SiO[s] – dashed brown, SiO2[s] – solid brown, MgO[s] – dashed dirty orange, MgSiO3[s] – dashed orange, Mg2SiO4[s] – solid orange. The contribution of the different materials to the volume of the cloud particles, Vs/Vtot, is shown in percentage. For example, VMg2SiO4/Vtot=0.3 means 30% of the cloud particle is made of Mg2SiO4.

Figure 2. Dayside cloud particle material composition (colour coded, left axis) and mean grain sizes (black, right axis) for both exoplanets. For colour codes refer to the original paper at Helling et al. 2016, fig. 7 , or to the text above

Figure 2. Dayside cloud particle material composition (colour coded, left axis) and mean grain sizes (black, right axis) for both exoplanets. For colour codes refer to the original paper at Helling et al. 2016, fig. 7, or to the text above

To the left in Fig. 2, where the gas pressure is low, is the upper part of the atmosphere and the cloud. Here, the cloud particles are small (10-2 μm) and made of a rich mix of materials indicated by many coloured lines appearing in the plots of Fig 2. Letting your eyes wonder more to the right shows that most of the lines disappear, because these materials evaporate (like Fe2O3[s], MgO[s]). Most of the cloud particles are now made of MgSiO3[s], Mg2SiO4[s], SiO2[s] and a bit of Fe[s]. When moving further inwards the atmosphere where the temperature increases beyond thermal stability of the silicate materials, a larger fraction of cloud particles will be made of Fe[s].

Inspecting Fig 2 a bit closer by comparing the results for HD 189733b and HD 209458b shows that the cloud particles at the inner rim of HD 189733b are more Fe[s] rich than for HD 209458b. The cloud particles in the upper atmospheric regions appear rather similar in material composition: they are made of silicates and oxides with only very small contribution form iron.

A major result of our work is that all cloud properties are interlinked and that it is extremely difficult to guess correct combinations of cloud particle-sizes and their material composition that will occur at a certain place inside the atmosphere of an extrasolar planet.

Why would HD 209458b show more water absorption than HD 189733b? Hence, why does HD 209458b seem to have more water vapour than HD 189733b according to observations? Water is the most abundant absorbing species in the gas phase and maybe one would not expect any differences between two relatively similar planets like HD 189733b and HD 209458b. However, our research shows that a considerably larger portion of the atmosphere of HD 209458b is affected by the cloud than for HD 189733b. The clouds in HD 209458b reach into regions of lower atmospheric pressure, hence lower gas densities, compared to HD 189733b. It should therefore be more difficult to observe water on HD 209458b than on HD 189733b. Therefore, the more a cloud layer extends into the low-density upper part of the atmosphere, the shallower the gas-absorption features will be in the observed spectrum (Fig. 3).

Figure 3. More water molecules accumulate above clouds at higher atmospheric pressure. Clouds on HD 209458b form lower in the atmosphere (right), therefore have more water molecules above them resulting in a deeper water absorption feature in the spectrum, than on HD 189733b (left)

Figure 3. More water molecules accumulate above clouds at higher atmospheric pressure. Clouds on HD 209458b form lower in the atmosphere (right), therefore have more water molecules above them resulting in a deeper water absorption feature in the spectrum, than on HD 189733b (left)

 

For more details check out the original paper on ADS:

 Ch. Helling, G. Lee, I. Dobbs-Dixon, et al. 2016, MNRAS, 460, 855

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Mapping the sparkling clouds of the extrasolar planet HD 189733b

How do clouds look like on alien worlds? Graham Lee and Christiane Helling in collaboration with Ian Dobbs-Dixon (New York University Abu Dhabi) and Diana Juncher (University Copenhagen) took the first steps in modelling the formation of clouds for the giant gas planet HD 189733b, a member of a class of exoplanets commonly called ‘hot Jupiters’.

Observations (e.g. Pont et al. 2013; Sing et al. 2015, ) suggest that many hot Jupiters contain a large dust cloud component in their atmosphere because they obscure the absorption signatures of the atmospheric gas underneath the cloud layers. These clouds are made of mineral compounds such as TiO2[s], MgSiO3[s], SiO[s], Al2O3[s], Fe[s] (‘s’ meaning solid particles) (see previous blog post), and not of water like on Earth.

Inspired by previous research which proved clouds exist in brown dwarf atmosphere (see our post on DRIFT-PHOENIX Atmosphere Models) we set out to investigate if the same family of clouds could reside in hot Jupiter atmospheres.

We applied our cloud formation model to a 3D radiative-hydrodynamic simulation (RHD) of HD 189733b (Dobbs-Dixon & Agol 2013), to prove that the temperature and pressure conditions on these planetary atmospheres are suitable for cloud formation. We took temperature, density and pressure data in 1D “slices” of the 3D simulation as input for our cloud formation model (Figure 1). This is like using an atmospheric probe to sample the local conditions of the atmosphere during descent. The combination of a sophisticated 3D RHD atmospheric model and our 1D cloud formation model allowed us to create cloud “maps” of the HD 189733b atmosphere.

Left: Illustration of the sample trajectories (black points) taken from the 3D radiative-hydrodynamic (RHD) model atmosphere of HD 189733b (Dobbs-Dixon & Agol 2013). Right: Input temperature and pressure profile for the cloud formation model at the equator of the 3D RHD model.

Left: Illustration of the sample trajectories (black points) taken from the 3D radiative-hydrodynamic (RHD) model atmosphere of HD 189733b (Dobbs-Dixon & Agol 2013).
Right: Input temperature and pressure profile for the cloud formation model at the equator of the 3D RHD model. The dayside profiles are φ= 0°, 45°, 315°, nightside profiles φ = 135°, 180°, 225° and day-night terminator regions φ = 90°, 270°.

Our results show how cloud properties change between different regions of the planet. First we noticed that the size of cloud particles changes with the location on the globe. Grains found on the dayside generally grow faster and larger than those on the nightside. However, because of the lower temperatures on the nightside, more grains form on the nightside. This leads to an cloud structure where numerous small grains reside on the nightside while larger (but less abundant) grains reside on the dayside face of the planet.

We converted the cloud properties across the globe into a map of global cloud properties: Figure 2 depicts the mean particle size at an atmospheric pressure of 10-2 bar across the globe of HD 189733b, where the difference between nightside and dayside is most apparent.

With our simulations, we show that the maximum reflectivity of mineral clouds correspond to the 8 micron Spitzer global flux maximum observed by Knutson et al. (2007). Our results therefore suggest that clouds can significantly contribute to the infrared flux from these planets by scattering photons back into space.

We further found that the clouds on the hot Jupiter HD 189733b reflected more efficiently in blue than red spectral range. This suggests that the clouds on this planet will appear midnight blue in colour if viewed with human eyes. Figure 3 shows an RGB colour estimation for HD 189733b clouds  by interpolating the light scattering result. Evans et al. (2013) presented observations with the Hubble Space Telescope suggesting a bluish appearance of HD 189733b which our work now supports on the basis of detailed cloud formation modelling.

RGB scale and colour estimate of the cloud particles on the dayside face of the planet. Hubble Space Telescope observations found the planet to be a deep blue colour.

RGB scale and colour estimate of the cloud particles on the dayside face of the planet. Hubble Space Telescope observations found the planet to be a deep blue colour.

Could these clouds sparkle? Mineral cloud particles are thought to form crystalline structures as they travel through the atmosphere (Helling & Ritmeijer 2009). This means that the mineral particles that form the clouds on HD 189733b are likely to “sparkle” similar to gemstones on Earth, such as sapphire.

 

 

 

 

For more details check out the original paper on ADS:

Lee, G., Helling, Ch., Dobbs-Dixon, I., Juncher, D. 2015, A&A, 580, 12L

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Exo-Clouds, making cloud particles in exoplanet atmospheres

How do clouds look like and what are the made of on exoplanets and brown dwarfs? Are they as interesting as here on Earth? We certainly think yes! Graham Lee and his collaborators’ paper has just been published on the topic of modelling the formation of condensation seeds. This work  involved two summer students under the supervision of Dr Christiane Helling. Here comes a brief summery of their work.

“Rain may fall, and wind may blow

And many miles be still to go

But under a tall tree will I lie

And let the clouds go sailing by”

–  J.R.R. Tolkien

Clouds are an everyday experience for most humankind here on Earth. We admire the sheer span of the objects and the sometimes recognisable and/or funny shapes they form in the sky. When they turn dark we know rain is on the way and take shelter. Yet we also know that our main source of fresh water comes from the traveling of clouds many miles from ocean to land. However, despite centuries of investigation by scientists, the exact physics of clouds remains elusive and not fully understood. In recent years, astronomers have begun to notice the effect of clouds when observing exoplanets and low-mass stars such as brown dwarfs. Just like on Earth, these clouds are very important to the eco-system and environment of the objects. Unlike Earth, these clouds are not like our everyday water clouds but rather are composed of a multitude of a multitude of solid materials like silicates and iron. Clouds play a key role in the energy budget of a planet, either reflecting heat away or trapping heat inside the planet’s atmosphere. It has, therefore, become more and more important to accurately describe and observe in detail the clouds found on these planets. This has implications on the habitability of such planets.

Modelling hot Jupiter exo-clouds

Every cloud particle has a beginning, and in hot Jupiter atmospheres a potential cloud particle starts off as a single gas molecule called a monomer. The main monomer of interest to our research is TiO2 (Helling & Fomins 2014). At the upper edges hot Jupiter atmospheres conditions can reach 500 K where the formation of small clusters made of TiO2 molecules starts.

TiO2 molecule geometries. Molecules labelled 'a' are the old polymer like chain geometries from Jeong et al. 2000. Those labelled 'b' or unlabelled are the newer geometries from Calatayud et al. 2008 and Syzgantseva et al. 2010.

TiO2 molecule geometries. Molecules labelled ‘a’ are the old polymer like chain geometries from Jeong et al. 2000. Those labelled ‘b’ or unlabelled are the newer geometries from Calatayud et al. 2008 and Syzgantseva et al. 2010.

A TiO2 gas molecule then chemically bonds with another TiO2 molecule creating a 2 monomer gas particle (TiO2)2. Further TiO2 monomers can then bond with this 2 monomer gas particle, step by step increasing the size of this gas particle of these molecules which are called ‘clusters’. When the chemical chain reaches a critical monomer number N, it is large enough to be called a cloud “seed particle” and considered to be in the solid rather than gaseous state. This rate of growing gas molecules until they are solid is called ‘nucleation’. The process is key to the formation of clouds, as without the nucleation of a seed molecule, no further material can condense onto its solid surface.

Once the seed particle is formed other materials condense onto the grain surface causing the cloud particle to grow in size. As the cloud particle grows it falls due to gravity to deeper, hotter and denser regions of the atmosphere. This accelerates the growth process as more material is available to condense onto the surface. Particles can grow to micro meter sizes. Due to this condensation and nucleation the local gas is depleted of elements that constitute the compositional make up of the cloud particle. Once the temperature becomes too high for thermal stability of the cloud particle materials, they evaporate from the surface until all solid material returns to the gas phase. Convection from deeper atmospheric layers provides element replenishment to upper, cooler layers allowing the cloud formation process to reach a stationary state.

Figure 1. Nucleation (seed formation), dust growth (and evaporation), gravitational settling (rain-out) and element replenishment are processes involved into the formation of a cloud. The inner part of an atmosphere is typically warmer than the outer part in a brown dwarf, and no cloud particles can form. Atmospheres of brown dwarfs and giant gas planets are convective (”boiling”) which provides the mechanisms for element replenishment. Original figure in Woitke & Helling (2004).

Figure 1. Nucleation (seed formation), dust growth (and evaporation), gravitational settling (rain-out) and element replenishment are processes involved into the formation of a cloud. The inner part of an atmosphere is typically warmer than the outer part in a brown dwarf, and no cloud particles can form. Atmospheres of brown dwarfs and giant gas planets are convective (”boiling”) which provides the mechanisms for element replenishment. Original figure in Woitke & Helling (2004).

The typical observable signatures of cloud in these hot Jupiters are the characteristic Rayleigh scattering of light from the cloud in its atmosphere (e.g. Wasp-31b; Sing et al. 2014, HD 189733b; Pont et al. 2013). Other signatures are a flat, featureless spectrum, which indicates thick cloud cover, obscuring hot gas underneath. This flat signature might also be attributed to the element depletion effects of cloud formation.  If an element is depleted from the atmosphere of a hot Jupiter it is harder to detect.

In Lee et al. 2014, we looked again at our cloud formation model to see how our predicted cloud structures changed with the addition of new chemical data for TiO2 and SiO molecules. These two molecules are considered the most likely to nucleate and form seed particles in hot Jupiter atmospheres. Our aim was to find out if this new data had an impact on our previous assumptions that TiO2 was the main nucleation species in exoplanet atmospheres. Using new TiO2 geometrical cluster data from  Calatayud et al. 2008 and Syzgantseva et al. 2010, we performed computer quantum chemical calculations called density functional theory on these molecules.

n6brom movie

Movie showing one of the vibrational modes of the (TiO2)6 structure resulting from the quantum mechanical calculations.

We also switched our primary nucleation seed to SiO using new experimental vapour data (Wetzel et al. 2013). Our cloud model relies on accurate values on how much energy is required to nucleate these particles and to estimate their macroscopic properties. We found that the new geometries of TiO2 molecules enhanced the rate of nucleation compared to the old values (from Jeong et al. 2000). Furthermore, SiO proved to be the most efficient nucleation species several times that of TiO2.

Number densities (cm−3) and nucleation rates Jstar (s−1cm−3) for both TiO2 and SiO.  Red lines indicate TiO2 nucleation using various data. Blue lines indicate SiO nucleation. SiO nucleates at a higher rate than TiO2 in isolation. This does not take into account feedback effects from element depletion.

Number densities (cm−3) and nucleation rates J_(star) (s−1cm−3) for both TiO2 and SiO. Red lines indicate TiO2 nucleation using various data. Blue lines indicate SiO nucleation. SiO nucleates at a higher rate than TiO2 in isolation. This does not take into account feedback effects from element depletion.

This was primarily due to the greater abundance of SiO compared to TiO2 in the gas phase. However, after the formation of the seed particle is complete, materials such as SiO and SiO2 can condense onto the grain surface. This depletes the local gas of Si elements which in turn reduces the rate of SiO nucleation, since less material is available to nucleate. TiO2 on the other hand, condenses onto grain surfaces at much slower rates, leaving enough material to nucleate. This makes TiO2 nucleation overall more efficient and the primary seed particle of these clouds.

In conclusion, clouds play a vital role in the ecosystems and environment of whatever objects they are found on. Atmospheric cloud modelling requires careful treatment of the seed particles, from our Solar System planets to exoplanets. Future molecular data may change the specific qualities of these seed particles and we hope to continue to refine and improve this important aspect of cloud modelling.

file_ameanSiOTiO2individual_16003 TiO2- and SiO-nucleation rates (top) calculated as part of the cloud formation model and their effect on the number density of cloud particles (middle) and the mean grain size (bottom). The calculations include nucleation, growth/evaporation, element conservation, gravitational settling and convective replenishment. TiO2 nucleation produces more seed particles and at a higher rate than SiO in our atmospheric models due to the depletion of SiO in the gas phase from grain growth.

file_ameanSiOTiO2individual_16003 TiO2- and SiO-nucleation rates (top) calculated as part of the cloud formation model and their effect on the number density of cloud particles (middle) and the mean grain size (bottom). The calculations include nucleation, growth/evaporation, element conservation, gravitational settling and convective replenishment. TiO2 nucleation produces more seed particles and at a higher rate than SiO in our atmospheric models due to the depletion of SiO in the gas phase from grain growth.

Additional information:

Solar system planets

It is not a surprise when we learn as a child that clouds on Earth are made of water ice particles. After all, water is a major constituent of the Earths geological make-up and Earth’s temperature conditions are such that water can exist in solid, liquid and gaseous form. However, water vapour makes up a tiny fraction of the Earth’s atmosphere (less than 0.1 %) compared to the main gases; Oxygen (21 %) and Nitrogen (78 %). Each cloud particle on Earth contains a micrometer sized seed particle of sand or ash at its core, kicked upwards by winds or volcanic eruptions. It is when water vapour reaches freezing point in the troposphere that it condenses onto the surface of these seed particles, forming our well known water clouds. Similarly, for other planets their types of cloud depend on the local gaseous content available, the creation of a suitable trace molecule to condense/freeze and the local thermodynamic conditions these molecules find themselves in.

For Venus, the clouds that cover its atmosphere are so thick that its rocky surface is hidden from view. The clouds of Venus also make it the hottest planet in the Solar System as they help trap heat deep within the atmosphere. The atmosphere is mostly composed of carbon-dioxide (97 %) and Nitrogen (3 %) with trace elements making up less than 1 per cent of the composition. It is known that the main constituent of clouds on Venus are sulphuric acid (H2SO4) droplets formed from ultra-violet chemical reactions by radiation from the Sun. Interestingly, when these droplets fall due to gravity they do not reach the surface of Venus since at a height of  ~30km from the surface these droplets evaporate because of high temperatures. It is thought that the chemicals and seed particles for this sulphuric acid rain come from the eruption of surface volcanoes.

Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune all have similar atmospheric compositions dominated by Hydrogen and Helium but all have different cloud structures and compositions. The surface temperatures of Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune are approximately 165, 134, 76 and 72 K respectively. These temperatures are much cooler than Earth (approx. 288 K) so we expect a vastly different cloud composition and structure in these objects and also differences between larger and smaller gas planets . In Jupiter and Saturn there are several molecules that can condense to form clouds in these atmospheres including, NH3, NH4SH and H2O. On Uranus and Neptune we also expect CH4 and H2S clouds to form in addition to the clouds found on Jupiter and Saturn. It is thought that the water clouds in these objects can produce lightning similar to Earth’s but at a much higher intensity, releasing as much as 1000 times the average energy of a lighting strike on Earth.

 

 

For more details check out the original paper on ADS:

Lee G., Helling Ch., Giles H., Bromley S.T.,  A&A 575, A11

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Electrification in dusty atmospheres inside and outside the solar system, Pitlochry, 8-11 Sep. 2014

The workshop ‘Electrification of dusty atmospheres inside and outside the solar system’ hosted by the LEAP Group took place in Pitlochry, Scotland. The cross-disciplinary nature of the workshop attracted scientists from fields of plasma physics, volcanology, meteorology, and astrophysics from all over the world.

The meeting started with a welcome barbeque on Sunday evening: people were talking in small groups, catching up with old friends and meeting new colleagues.

The welcome barbeque in the garden of the hotel

_DSC1519 The welcome barbeque in the garden of the hotel (Credit: Rubén Asensio Torres)

On Monday morning Christiane Helling summarized the scientific idea that lead to the organization of this workshop: she talked about the benefits of the meeting for both astrophysicists and scientists from other fields. She also introduced a new proceeding idea, which is planned to be published in Surveys of Geophysics.

The first talk was given by Alan Phelps who discussed laboratory studies of crystalline-like ordered structure in dense dusty plasmas, with the potential to investigate similar behaviour in substellar atmospheres. In this context, the exciting possibility exists of identifying a unique observable signature associated with plasma crystals that could be used to diagnose the charged environment.

The difficulties of the inter-disciplinary nature of the workshop appeared right after the first talk when it turned out that the definition of ‘dust’ is not the same in every field. However, after discussing the issue, the speakers and participants quickly got used to the fact that most of the people are from a different field than they are and explained their fields in a way, which was understandable for everyone.

Keri Nicoll and Corrado Cimarelli gave exciting talks on volcanic lightning. Nicoll gave an overview on the different charging mechanisms in volcanic plumes and reported that broad particle size distributions of volcanic ash clouds are more susceptible to triboelectric charging, which give an analogy to substellar clouds with atmospheric regions with the appropriate particle size distribution. Cimarelli described a laboratory experiment where they reproduced volcanic lightning strikes, and explained how the particle size and distribution affects the charge separations on plumes.

Euan Bennet’s talk on isolating different sized bacteria using electrostatic disruption of water droplets was an interesting part of the conference. It showed some of the unexpected applications that can arise from the study of aerosol electrification.

During the afternoon session Ute Ebert introduced us into the mechanism of lightning development and gave an overview of streamer propagation. The following talks were about Transient Luminous Events (TLEs) such as sprite modelling and the possibility of TLE initiation on gas giant planets like Jupiter.

The afternoon ended with the poster pop-up, where each poster presenter was given one minute to advertise his or her work, which was followed by the poster session itself. Delicious pretzels and Guinness accompanied the session.

_DSC1609

_DSC1623 Poster session (Credit: Rubén Asensio Torres)

On Tuesday we started with a very interesting talk by Farideh Honary on Lunar dust charging and how this can affect future (and past) landing missions. Karen Aplin introduced us a similar approach but with asteroids. She raised the question of what would happen if a, possibly, oppositely charged landing spacecraft (negatively charged) and the surface of an asteroid (positively charged) interact with each other and showed a model of how the electrostatic effects can be best measured in situ.

The afternoon session started with Ian Dobbs-Dixon’s presentation on dynamical modelling of the atmospheres of tidally locked hot Jupiters. Michael Rycroft introduced the audience to the conditions a planet would need in order to host a global electric circuit.

In the evening we had the workshop dinner in the hotel. In a short dinner speech, Christiane Helling also thanked all the participants for their exciting contributions to the workshop. Towards the end of the dinner Craig Stark announced the winners of the poster contest, Graham Lee and Karen Aplin. Congratulations!

Wednesday was the day of brown dwarfs (BDs) and ionization processes. Sara Caswell talked about two White Dwarf–Brown Dwarf systems and showed how different the spectra of the day and night side of an irradiated BD can be. Irena Vorgul gave a talk on how flash ionization processes (such as lightning) could be detected through cyclotron maser emission going through the affected atmospheric volume. Craig Stark summarized the concept of the LEAP Project, then talked about the basics of Alfvén ionization, a process where a low density magnetized plasma is hit by a high speed flow of neutral gas. He then talked about the possibility of creating prebiotic molecules (like glycen) on the surface of dust particles in plasmas. An impressive talk was given by Takayuki Muranushi, how proposed to use ion lines width for detection lightning occurring within protoplanetary disks.

On the last day of the workshop we learnt a lot about cosmic ray (CR) air showers and their ionizing effects. However, due to a change in the schedule, the first talk was about multi-wavelength observations of BDs given by Stuart Littlefair. He showed that consistent cyclotron emission detection shows very good correlation with optical observations, suggesting an aurora-like mechanism for the radio emission. There is though some variation in radiated power for different periods of rotation, which might also be attributed to undergoing transient processes in the atmosphere (like lightning).

Alan Watson talked about the work at the Pierre Auger Observatory, an ultra-high-energy CR detector in Argentina. He showed us an unusual phenomenon observed by multiple detectors and asked the opinion of the audience on the topic. Large variety of ideas came including possible lightning events, and military missile activity as well. Although the question has not been answered unequivocally, the response from the audience showed how beneficial such a multi-disciplinary meeting can be for the different scientific fields. Paul Rimmer went into the details of CR ionization in BD atmospheres and proposed the possibility of using Jupiter as a giant gamma-ray detector through the extensive CR air showers occurring in its atmosphere.

The last talk of the day and the workshop was given by Scott Gregory who showed us how stellar magnetic fields can affect the habitability of a planet orbiting that star. He also pointed out that the magnetic field structures differ for different stars.

The afternoon was rounded off with a whiskey tour and tasting in the Blair Atholl Destillery where we learnt a lot on how whiskey is made, what are the main ingredients, how is the alcohol content regulated and how much time the infusion spends in the barrels.

A few of the participants had the opportunity to tour the Blair Castle and its extensive grounds on Friday. The fresh apples and pears from the trees in the Hercules garden were especially enjoyable.

On the whole the workshop was a great experience for all of us, the talks were very diverse still related to our work in the LEAP Group. All speakers made great efforts to allow the audience to appreciate their contribution to the workshop’s theme. We had a great opportunity to meet scientists from other fields and discuss our projects, concerns, works with them.

We would like to thank all of the participants for their contribution to the success of the workshop. The high quality of the talks and posters gave an insight for the audience into the different disciplines.

 

Participants of the workshop (Credit: Rubén Asensio Torres)

Participants of the workshop (Credit: Rubén Asensio Torres)