Flux and polarisation spectra of water clouds on exoplanets
SRON – Netherlands Institute for Space Research, Sorbonnelaan 2, 3584 CA Utrecht, The Netherlands
2 Astronomical Institute “Anton Pannekoek”, University of Amsterdam, Science Park 904, 1098 XH Amsterdam, The Netherlands
3 Astronomical Institute, Utrecht University, Princetonplein 5, 3584 CC Utrecht, The Netherlands
Received: 6 January 2011
Accepted: 7 April 2011
Context. A crucial factor for a planet’s habitability is its climate. Clouds play an important role in planetary climates. Detecting and characterising clouds on an exoplanet is therefore crucial when addressing this planet’s habitability.
Aims. We present calculated flux and polarisation spectra of starlight that is reflected by planets covered by liquid water clouds with different optical thicknesses, altitudes, and particle sizes, as functions of the phase angle α. We discuss the retrieval of these cloud properties from observed flux and polarisation spectra.
Methods. Our model planets have black surfaces and atmospheres with Earth-like temperature and pressure profiles. We calculate the spectra from 0.3 to 1.0 μm, using an adding-doubling radiative transfer code with integration over the planetary disk. The cloud particles’ scattering properties are calculated using a Mie-algorithm.
Results. Both flux and polarisation spectra are sensitive to the cloud optical thickness, altitude and particle sizes, depending on the wavelength and phase angle α.
Conclusions. Reflected fluxes are sensitive to cloud optical thicknesses up to ~40, and the polarisation to thicknesses up to ~20. The shapes of polarisation features as functions of α are relatively independent of the cloud optical thickness. Instead, they depend strongly on the cloud particles’ size and shape, and can thus be used for particle characterisation. In particular, a rainbow strongly indicates the presence of liquid water droplets. Single scattering features such as rainbows, which can be observed in polarisation, are virtually unobservable in reflected fluxes, and fluxes are thus less useful for cloud particle characterisation. Fluxes are sensitive to cloud top altitudes mostly for α < 60° and wavelengths <0.4 μm, and the polarisation for α around 90° and wavelengths between 0.4 and 0.6 μm.
Key words: polarization / methods: numerical / radiative transfer / planets and satellites: atmospheres / Earth
© ESO, 2011