Monday, February 13, 2017

SuperEarth Gliese 1132b's Atmosphere has been Detected


Southworth et al


Detecting the atmospheres of low-mass low-temperature exoplanets is a high-priority goal on the path to ultimately detect biosignatures in the atmospheres of habitable exoplanets. High-precision HST observations of several super-Earths with equilibrium temperatures below 1000 K have to date all resulted in featureless transmission spectra, which have been suggested to be due to high-altitude clouds. We report the detection of an atmospheric feature in the atmosphere of a 1.6 Mearth transiting exoplanet, GJ 1132b, with an equilibrium temperature of ~600 K and orbiting a nearby M dwarf. We present observations of nine transits of the planet obtained simultaneously in the griz and JHK passbands. We find an average radius of 1.44 +/- 0.21 Rearth for the planet, averaged over all the passbands, which can be decomposed into a "surface radius" at ~1.35 Rearth, and higher contributions in the z and K bands. The z-band radius is 4 sigma higher than the continuum, suggesting a strong detection of an atmosphere. We deploy a suite of tests to verify the reliability of the transmission spectrum, which are greatly helped by the existence of repeat observations. The large z-band transit depth indicates strong opacity from H2O and/or CH4 or an hitherto unconsidered opacity. A surface radius of 1.35 +/- 0.21 Rearth allows for a wide range of interior compositions ranging from a nearly Earth-like rocky interior, with ~70% silicate and ~30% Fe, to a substantially H2O-rich water world. New observations with HST and existing ground-based facilities would be able to confirm the present detection and further constrain the atmospheric composition of the planet.

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