Monday, January 9, 2017

A Method to Characterize Proxima Centauri b Using its Aurora


Luger et al


We examine the feasibility of detecting auroral emission from the potentially habitable exoplanet Proxima Centauri b. This planet's active, late-type M dwarf host makes detection of aurorae more favorable than around a solar-type star, primarily by increasing auroral power and improving the planet-star contrast in the visible wavelength range due to strong TiO absorption in the star. Detection of aurorae would yield an independent confirmation of the planet's existence, constrain the presence and composition of its atmosphere, and determine the planet's eccentricity and inclination, thereby breaking the mass-inclination degeneracy. If Proxima b is a terrestrial world with an atmosphere and magnetic field, we estimate that its auroral power at the 5577\AA\ OI auroral line is on the order of 0.1 TW under steady-state stellar wind, or ~100 times stronger than that on Earth. This corresponds to a planet-star contrast ratio of 10−6−10−7 in a narrow band about the 5577\AA\ line, although higher contrast (10−4−10−5) may be possible during periods of strong magnetospheric disturbance (auroral power 1-10 TW). We searched the Proxima b HARPS data for the 5577\AA\ line, but find no signal, indicating that the OI auroral line power must be lower 3,000 TW, consistent with our predictions. We find that observations of 0.1 TW auroral emission lines are likely infeasible with current and planned telescopes. However, future observations with a large-aperture, space-based coronagraphic telescope or a ground-based extremely large telescope (ELT) with a coronagraph could push sensitivity down to terawatt oxygen aurorae (contrast 7×10−6) with exposure times of ~1 day at high spectral resolution. If a coronagraph design contrast of 10−7 can be achieved with negligible instrumental noise, a future concept ELT could observe steady-state auroral emission in a few nights.

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