Wednesday, September 21, 2016

A Cloudiness Index for Transiting hot Jupiters Based on the Sodium and Potassium Lines


Heng et al


We present a dimensionless index that quantifies the degree of cloudiness of the atmosphere of a transiting exoplanet. Our cloudiness index is based on measuring the transit radii associated with the line center and wing of the sodium or potassium line. In deriving this index, we revisited the algebraic formulae for inferring the isothermal pressure scale height from transit measurements. We demonstrate that the formulae of Lecavelier et al. and Benneke & Seager are identical: the former is inferring the temperature while assuming a value for the mean molecular mass and the latter is inferring the mean molecular mass while assuming a value for the temperature. More importantly, these formulae cannot be used to distinguish between cloudy and cloudfree atmospheres. We derive values of our cloudiness index for a small sample of 7 hot Saturns/Jupiters taken from Sing et al. We show that WASP-17b, WASP-31b and HAT-P-1b are nearly cloudfree at visible wavelengths. We find the tentative trend that more irradiated atmospheres tend to have less clouds consisting of sub-micron-sized particles. We also derive absolute sodium and/or potassium abundances ∼102 cm−3 for WASP-17b, WASP-31b and HAT-P-1b (and upper limits for the other objects). Higher-resolution measurements of both the sodium and potassium lines, for a larger sample of exoplanetary atmospheres, are needed to confirm or refute this trend.

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