Clouds in the atmospheres of extrasolar planets
II. Thermal emission spectra of Earth-like planets influenced by low and high-level clouds
Zentrum für Astronomie und Astrophysik, Technische Universität
2 Institut für Planetenforschung, Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt (DLR), Rutherfordstr. 2, 12489 Berlin, Germany
Received: 2 March 2010
Accepted: 18 May 2011
Aims. We study the impact of multi-layered clouds (low-level water and high-level ice clouds) on the thermal emission spectra of Earth-like planets orbiting different types of stars. Clouds have an important influence on such planetary emission spectra due to their wavelength dependent absorption and scattering properties. We also investigate the influence of clouds on the ability to derive information about planetary surface temperatures from low-resolution spectra.
Methods. We use a previously developed parametric cloud model based on observations in the Earth’s atmosphere, coupled to a one-dimensional radiative-convective steady state climate model. This model is applied here to study the effect of clouds on the thermal emission spectra of Earth-like extrasolar planets in dependence of the type of central star.
Results. The presence of clouds lead in general to a decrease of the planetary IR spectrum associated with the dampening of spectral absorption features such as the 9.6 μm absorption band of O3 for example. This dampening is not limited to absorption features originating below the cloud layers but was also found for features forming above the clouds. When only single cloud layers are considered, both cloud types exhibit basically the same effects on the spectrum but the underlying physical processes are clearly different. For model scenarios where multi-layered clouds have been considered with coverages which yield mean Earth surface temperatures, the low-level clouds have only a small influence on the thermal emission spectra. In these cases the major differences are caused by high-level ice clouds. The largest effect was found for a planet orbiting the F-type star, where no absorption features can be distinguished in the low-resolution emission spectrum for high cloud coverages. However, for most central stars, planetary atmospheric absorption bands are present even at high cloud coverages. Clouds also affect the derivation of surface temperatures from low-resolution spectra when fitting black-body radiation curves to the spectral shape of the IR emission spectra. With increasing amount of high-level clouds the derived temperatures increasingly under-estimate the real planetary surface temperatures. Consequently, clouds can alter significantly the measured apparent temperature of a planet as well as the detectability of the characteristic spectral signatures in the infrared. Therefore, planets with observationally derived somewhat lower surface temperatures should not be discarded too quickly from the list of potential habitable planets before further investigations on the presence of clouds have been made.
Key words: planets and satellites: atmospheres / atmospheric effects / astrobiology
© ESO, 2011