Thursday, August 6, 2015

The Weirdness of CO2, CO and H2O in Exoplanetary Atmospheres

Carbon Dioxide in Exoplanetary Atmospheres: Rarely Dominant Compared to Carbon Monoxide and Water


Heng et al


We present a comprehensive study of the abundance of carbon dioxide in exoplanetary atmospheres. We construct analytical models of systems in chemical equilibrium that include carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, water, methane and acetylene and relate the equilibrium constants of the chemical reactions to temperature and pressure via the tabulated Gibbs free energies. We prove that such chemical systems may be described by a quintic equation for the mixing ratio of methane. By examining the abundances of these molecules across a broad range of temperatures (spanning equilibrium temperatures from 600 to 2500 K), pressures (via temperature-pressure profiles that explore albedo and opacity variations) and carbon-to-oxygen ratios (from 0.1 to 100), we conclude that carbon dioxide is subdominant compared to carbon monoxide and water. Atmospheric mixing does not alter this conclusion if carbon dioxide is subdominant everywhere in the atmosphere. Carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide may attain comparable abundances if the metallicity is greatly enhanced, but this property is negated by temperatures above 1000 K. For hydrogen-dominated atmospheres, our generic result has the implication that retrieval studies need to set the subdominance of carbon dioxide as a prior of the calculation and not let its abundance completely roam free as a fitting parameter, because it directly affects the inferred value of the carbon-to-oxygen ratio and may produce unphysical conclusions. We discuss the relevance of these implications for the hot Jupiter WASP-12b and suggest that some of the previous results are chemically impossible. The relative abundance of carbon dioxide to acetylene is potentially a sensitive diagnostic of the carbon-to-oxygen ratio.

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