Astrophys. J., 888, L21-L21 (2020/January-2)
Is π Men c's atmosphere hydrogen-dominated? Insights from a non-detection of H I Lyα absorption.
GARCIA MUNOZ A., YOUNGBLOOD A., FOSSATI L., GANDOLFI D., CABRERA J. and RAUER H.
Abstract (from CDS):
Constraining the composition of super-Earth-to-sub-Neptune-sized planets is a priority in order to understand the processes of planetary formation and evolution. π Men c represents a unique target for the atmospheric and compositional characterization of such planets because it is strongly irradiated and its bulk density is consistent with abundant H2O. We searched for hydrogen from photodissociating H2/H2O in π Men c's upper atmosphere through H I Lyα transmission spectroscopy with the Hubble Space Telescope's Space Telescope Imaging Spectrograph, but did not detect it. We set 1σ (3σ) upper limits for the effective planet-to-star size ratio RLyα/R* = 0.13 (0.24) and 0.12 (0.20) at velocities [-215, -91] km s–1 and [+57, +180] km s–1, respectively. We reconstructed the stellar spectrum, and estimate that π Men c receives about 1350 erg cm–2 s–1 of 5-912 Å energy, enough to cause rapid atmospheric escape. An interesting scenario to explain the non-detection is that π Men c's atmosphere is dominated by H2O or other heavy molecules rather than H2/He. According to our models, abundant oxygen results in less extended atmospheres, which transition from neutral to ionized hydrogen closer to the planet. We compare our non-detection to other detection attempts, and tentatively identify two behaviors: planets with densities <=2 g cm–3 (and likely hydrogen-dominated atmospheres) result in H I Lyα absorption, whereas planets with densities >=3 g cm–3 (and plausibly non-hydrogen-dominated atmospheres) do not result in measurable absorption. Investigating a sample of strongly irradiated sub-Neptunes may provide some statistical confirmation if it is shown that they do not generally develop extended atmospheres.
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Exoplanet atmospheres - Aeronomy - Ultraviolet astronomy - Exoplanet atmospheric composition
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