A Thick Atmosphere on Super-Earth 55 Cancri e

Thursday 5 July, 14:00

One of the primary questions in characterizing Earth- and super-Earth-sized exoplanets is whether they have a substantial atmosphere like Earth and Venus, or a bare-rock surface like Mercury. Phase curves of the planets in thermal emission provide clues to this question, because a substantial atmosphere would transport heat more efficiently than a rocky surface. Analyzing phase curve photometric data around secondary eclipse has previously been used to study energy transport in the atmospheres of hot Jupiters. Here we use phase curve data to study the thermal emission properties of the super-Earth exoplanet 55 Cancri e. We utilize a previously developed semi-analytical framework to fit a physical model to the planet’s phase curve observed by Spitzer at 4.5 μm. The model uses parameters of planetary properties including Bond albedo, heat redistribution efficiency (i.e., the ratio between the radiative timescale and advective timescale of the photosphere), and atmospheric greenhouse factor. We determine the heat redistribution efficiency to be ~1.47, which implies that the advective timescale is on the same order as the radiative timescale. This requirement from the phase curve cannot be met by the bare-rock planet scenario, because heat transport by currents of molten lava would be too slow. The phase curve thus favors the scenario with a substantial atmosphere. Our constraints on the heat redistribution efficiency translate to a photosphere pressure of ~1.4 bar. The Spitzer IRAC 2 band is thus a window into the deep atmosphere of the planet 55 Cancri e.

Submitted by