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Spectropolarimetry as a Means to Address Cloud Composition and Habitability for a Cloudy Exoplanetary Atmosphere in the Habitable Zone

West, Robert A. and Dumont, Philip and Hu, Renyu and Natraj, Vijay and Breckinridge, James B. and Chen, Pin (2022) Spectropolarimetry as a Means to Address Cloud Composition and Habitability for a Cloudy Exoplanetary Atmosphere in the Habitable Zone. Astrophysical Journal, 940 (2). Art. No. 183. ISSN 0004-637X. doi:10.3847/1538-4357/ac9b42.

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In our solar system, the densely cloud-covered atmosphere of Venus stands out as an example of how polarimetry can be used to gain information on cloud composition and particle mean radius. With current interest running high on discovering and characterizing extrasolar planets in the habitable zone where water exists in the liquid state, making use of spectropolarimetric measurements of directly imaged exoplanets could provide key information unobtainable through other means. In principle, spectropolarimetric measurements can determine if acidity causes water activities in the clouds to be too low for life. To this end, we show that a spectropolarimeter measurement over the range 400–1000 nm would need to resolve linear polarization to a precision of about 1% or better for reflected starlight from an optically thick cloud-enshrouded exoplanet. We assess the likelihood of achieving this goal by simulating measurements from a notional spectropolarimeter as part of a starshade configuration for a large space telescope (a HabEx design, but for a 6 m diameter primary mirror). Our simulations include consideration of noise from a variety of sources. We provide guidance on limits that would need to be levied on instrumental polarization to address the science issues we discuss. For photon-limited noise, integration times would need to be of order 1 hr for a large radius (10 Earth radii) planet to more than 100 hr for smaller exoplanets depending on the star–planet separation, planet radius, phase angle, and desired uncertainty. We discuss implications for surface chemistry and habitability.

Item Type:Article
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URLURL TypeDescription
West, Robert A.0000-0002-4320-2599
Hu, Renyu0000-0003-2215-8485
Natraj, Vijay0000-0003-3154-9429
Breckinridge, James B.0000-0002-9488-098X
Additional Information:This research was carried out at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology, under a contract with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (80NM0018D0004) and funded through JPL's internal Research and Technology Development program. Part of the research was supported by the NASA Exoplanet Research Program grant #80NM0018F0612. The idea for this work sprang from a workshop sponsored by and held at the Lorentz Center, Leiden, The Netherlands, in 2019.
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JPL Internal Research and Technology Development ProgramUNSPECIFIED
Issue or Number:2
Record Number:CaltechAUTHORS:20221220-736506000.3
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ID Code:118571
Deposited By: Research Services Depository
Deposited On:25 Jan 2023 16:00
Last Modified:25 Jan 2023 18:27

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