Thesis Open Access

Exoplanet Meteorology: Characterizing the Atmospheres of Directly Imaged Sub-Stellar Objects

Rajan, Abhijith

Thesis supervisor(s)

Patience, Jennifer; Young, Patrick

The field of exoplanet science has matured over the past two decades with over 3500 confirmed exoplanets. However, many fundamental questions regarding the composition, and formation mechanism remain unanswered. Atmospheres are a window into the properties of a planet, and spectroscopic studies can help resolve many of these questions. For the first part of my dissertation, I participated in two studies of the atmospheres of brown dwarfs to search for weather variations. To understand the evolution of weather on brown dwarfs we conducted a multi- epoch study monitoring four cool brown dwarfs to search for photometric variability. These cool brown dwarfs are predicted to have salt and sulfide clouds condensing in their upper atmosphere and we detected one high amplitude variable. Combining observations for all T5 and later brown dwarfs we note a possible correlation between variability and cloud opacity.

For the second half of my thesis, I focused on characterizing the atmospheres of directly imaged exoplanets. In the first study Hubble Space Telescope data on HR8799, in wavelengths unobservable from the ground, provide constraints on the presence of clouds in the outer planets. Next, I present research done in collaboration with the Gemini Planet Imager Exoplanet Survey (GPIES) team including an exploration of the instrument contrast against environmental parameters, and an examination of the environment of the planet in the HD 106906 system. By analyzing archival HST data and examining the near-infrared colors of HD 106906b, we conclude that the companion shows weak evidence of a circumplanetary dust disk or cloud. Finally, I measure the properties of the low mass directly imaged planet 51 Eridani b. We combined published J, H spectra with updated LP photometry, new K1, K2 spectra, and MS photometry. The new data confirms that the planet has redder than similar spectral type objects, which might be due to the planet still transitioning from to L-to-T. Model atmospheres indicate a cooler effective temperature best fit by a patchy cloud atmosphere making 51 Eri b an excellent candidate for future variability studies with the James Webb Space Telescope.

234 pages
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