Optical to near-infrared transit observations of super-Earth GJ 1214b: water-world or mini-Neptune?⋆
1 Leiden Observatory, Leiden University, Postbus 9513, 2300 RA Leiden, The Netherlands
2 SRON Netherlands Institute for Space Research, Sorbonnelaan 2, 3584 CA Utrecht, The Netherlands
3 Universitäts-Sternwarte München, Scheinerstrasse 1, 81679 Munich, Germany
4 Max-Planck-Institut für extraterrestrische Physik, Giessenbachstrasse, 85748 Garching, Germany
Received: 6 May 2011
Accepted: 2 November 2011
Context. GJ 1214b, the 6.55 Earth-mass transiting planet recently discovered by the MEarth team, has a mean density of ~35% of that of the Earth. It is thought that this planet is either a mini-Neptune, consisting of a rocky core with a thick, hydrogen-rich atmosphere, or a planet with a composition dominated by water.
Aims. In the case of a hydrogen-rich atmosphere, molecular absorption and scattering processes may result in detectable radius variations as a function of wavelength. The aim of this paper is to measure these variations.
Methods. We have obtained observations of the transit of GJ 1214b in the r- and I-band with the Isaac Newton Telescope (INT), in the g-, r-, i- and z-bands with the 2.2 m MPI/ESO telescope, in the Ks-band with the Nordic Optical Telescope (NOT), and in the Kc-band with the William Herschel Telescope (WHT). By comparing the transit depth between the the different bands, which is a measure for the planet-to-star size ratio, the atmosphere is investigated.
Results. We do not detect clearly significant variations in the planet-to-star size ratio as function of wavelength. Although the ratio at the shortest measured wavelength, in g-band, is 2σ larger than in the other bands. The uncertainties in the Ks and Kc bands are large, due to systematic features in the light curves.
Conclusions. The tentative increase in the planet-to-star size ratio at the shortest wavelength could be a sign of an increase in the effective planet-size due to Rayleigh scattering, which would require GJ 1214b to have a hydrogen-rich atmosphere. If true, then the atmosphere has to have both clouds, to suppress planet-size variations at red optical wavelengths, as well as a sub-solar metallicity, to suppress strong molecular features in the near- and mid-infrared. However, star spots, which are known to be present on the host-star’s surface, can (partly) cancel out the expected variations in planet-to-star size ratio, because the lower surface temperature of the spots causes the effective size of the star to vary with wavelength. A hypothetical spot-fraction of ~10%, corresponding to an average stellar dimming of ~5% in the i-band, would be able to raise the near- and mid-infrared points sufficiently with respect to the optical measurements to be inconsistent with a water-dominated atmosphere. Modulation of the spot fraction due to the stellar rotation would in such case cause the observed flux variations of GJ 1214.
Key words: techniques: photometric / stars: individual: GJ 1214 / planetary systems
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