Volume 546, October 2012
|Number of page(s)||12|
|Section||Planets and planetary systems|
|Published online||04 October 2012|
Modeled flux and polarization signals of horizontally inhomogeneous exoplanets applied to Earth-like planets
SRON – Netherlands Institute for Space Research,
2 Leiden Observatory, PO Box 9513, 2300 RA, Leiden, The Netherlands
Received: 28 March 2012
Accepted: 30 August 2012
Aims. We present modeled flux and linear polarization signals of starlight that is reflected by spatially unresolved, horizontally inhomogeneous planets and discuss the effects of including horizontal inhomogeneities on the flux and polarization signals of Earth-like exoplanets.
Methods. Our code is based on an efficient adding-doubling algorithm, which fully includes multiple scattering by gases and aerosol/cloud particles. We divide a model planet into pixels that are small enough for the local properties of the atmosphere and surface (if present) to be horizontally homogeneous. Given a planetary phase angle, we sum up the reflected total and linearly polarized fluxes across the illuminated and visible part of the planetary disk, taking care to properly rotate the polarized flux vectors towards the same reference plane.
Results. We compared flux and polarization signals of simple horizontally inhomogeneous model planets against results of the weighted sum approximation, in which signals of horizontally homogeneous planets are combined. Apart from cases in which the planet has only a minor inhomogeneity, the signals differ significantly. In particular, the shape of the polarization phase function appears to be sensitive to the horizontal inhomogeneities. The same holds true for Earth-like model planets with patchy clouds above an ocean and a sandy continent. Our simulations clearly show that horizontal inhomogeneities leave different traces in flux and polarization signals. Combining flux with polarization measurements would help retrieving the atmospheric and surface patterns on a planet.
Key words: planets and satellites: atmospheres / methods: numerical / polarization / planets and satellites: surfaces
© ESO, 2012
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