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2010 Annual Science Report

VPL at University of Washington Reporting  |  SEP 2009 – AUG 2010

Super-Earth Atmospheres

Project Summary

In this task we use computer models to study aspects of the atmospheres of extrasolar super-Earths, planets that orbit other stars that are 2-10 times more massive than the Earth. Significant progress was made this year on three models, one that calculates how the atmosphere of the super-Earth is affected by radiative and particles coming from its parent star, one that calculates the surface temperature and change in atmospheric temperature with altitude for superEarth atmospheres and another that can model the synthetic spectrum of a superEarth when it passes in front of its star as seen from Earth.

4 Institutions
3 Teams
3 Publications
0 Field Sites
Field Sites

Project Progress

In this task we are developing capabilities to model the atmospheres and spectra of super-Earths. This is being done with atmospheric escape, climate and radiative transfer models.

With our atmospheric escape model, we are investigating planetary upper atmospheres with a wide range of composition (from present Earth atmosphere composition to 96% CO2) under different levels of XUV radiation. This effort will be helpful to better understand the habitability of M-star super-Earth planets. We have obtained results for atmospheres with 50% N2 and 50% CO2 and are exploring the parameter space (Tian, 2010). Generally speaking we found that planets in the HZ of M-stars could lose significant amount of their volatile inventory if their atmospheres are not dominated by CO2. These results will be reported in one or two papers to be submitted by the end of 2010.

In other work, graduate student Ty Robinson made progress on a generic terrestrial atmosphere climate model. This model will allow us to generate temperature and pressure profiles for planetary atmospheres very different to the Earth, such as those for super-Earths. A new scheme has been implemented to increase the speed of the radiative transfer model that drives the climate model, and this has been tested. Work continues on coupling the surface soil and planetary boundary layer models. Graduate student Amit Misra is also modifying our radiative transfer model to allow the generation of synthetic transmission spectra for super-Earth atmospheres.

    David Crisp

    Victoria Meadows

    Amit Misra
    Graduate Student

    Tyler Robinson
    Graduate Student

    Objective 1.1
    Formation and evolution of habitable planets.

    Objective 2.1
    Mars exploration.

    Objective 3.1
    Sources of prebiotic materials and catalysts