Monday, August 1, 2016

Clouds in Super-Earth Atmospheres

Clouds in Super-Earth Atmospheres: Chemical Equilibrium Calculations


Mbarek et al


Recent studies have unequivocally proven the existence of clouds in super-Earth atmospheres (Kreidberg et al. 2014). Here we provide a theoretical context for the formation of super-Earth clouds by determining which condensates are likely to form under the assumption of chemical equilibrium. We study super-Earth atmospheres of diverse bulk composition, which are assumed to form by outgassing from a solid core of chondritic material, following Schaefer & Fegley (2010). The super-Earth atmospheres that we study arise from planetary cores made up of individual types of chondritic meteorites. They range from highly reducing to oxidizing and have carbon to oxygen (C:O) ratios that are both subsolar and super-solar, thereby spanning a range of atmospheric composition that is appropriate for low-mass exoplanets. Given the atomic makeup of these atmospheres, we minimize the global Gibbs free energy of formation for over 550 gases and condensates to obtain the molecular composition of the atmospheres over a temperature range of 350-3,000 K. Clouds should form along the temperature-pressure boundaries where the condensed species appear in our calculation. We find that the composition of condensate clouds depends strongly on both the H:O and C:O ratios. For the super-Earth archetype GJ 1214b, KCl and ZnS are the primary cloud-forming condensates at solar composition, in agreement with previous work (Morley et al. 2013; Miller-Ricci Kempton et al. 2012). However, for oxidizing atmospheres, K2SO4 and ZnO condensates are favored instead, and for carbon-rich atmospheres with super-solar C:O ratios, graphite clouds appear. For even hotter planets, clouds form from a wide variety of rock-forming and metallic species.

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