Context. High-contrast imaging is currently the only available technique for the study of the thermodynamical and compositional properties of exoplanets in long-period orbits, comparable to the range from Venus to Jupiter. The SPICES (Spectro-Polarimetric Imaging and Characterization of Exoplanetary Systems) project is a coronagraphic space telescope dedicated to the spectro-polarimetric analysis of gaseous and icy giant planets as well as super-Earths at visible wavelengths. So far, studies for high-contrast imaging instruments have mainly focused on technical feasibility because of the challenging planet/star flux ratio of 10-8-10-10 required at short separations (200 mas or so) to image cold exoplanets. However, the main interest of such instruments, namely the analysis of planet atmospheric/surface properties, has remained largely unexplored.
Aims: The aim of this paper is to determine which planetary properties SPICES or an equivalent direct imaging mission can measure, considering realistic reflected planet spectra and instrument limitation.
Methods: We use numerical simulations of the SPICES instrument concept and theoretical planet spectra to carry out this performance study. We also define a criterion on the signal-to-noise ratio of the measured spectrum to determine under which conditions SPICES can retrieve planetary physical properties.
Results: We find that the characterization of the main planetary properties (identification of molecules, effect of metallicity, presence of clouds and type of surfaces) would require a median signal-to-noise ratio of at least 30. In the case of a solar-type star ≤10 pc, SPICES will be able to study Jupiters and Neptunes up to ~5 and ~2 AU respectively, because of the drastic flux decrease with separation. It would also analyze cloud and surface coverage of super-Earths of radius 2.5 Earth radii at 1 AU. Finally, we determine the potential targets in terms of planet separation, radius and distance for several stellar types. For a Sun analog, we show that SPICES could characterize Jupiters (M ≥ 30 Earth masses) as small as 0.5 Jupiter radii at ≲2 AU up to 10 pc, and super-Earths at 1-2 AU for the handful of stars that exist within 4-5 pc. Potentially, SPICES could perform analysis of a hypothetical Earth-size planet around α Cen A and B. However, these results depend on the planetary spectra we use, which are derived for a few planet parameters assuming a solar-type host star. Grids of model spectra are needed for a further performance analysis. Our results obtained for SPICES are also applicable to other small (1-2 m) coronagraphic space telescopes.
Astronomy and Astrophysics
- Pub Date:
- May 2012
- planetary systems;
- methods: numerical;
- techniques: high angular resolution;
- techniques: image processing;
- techniques: imaging spectroscopy;
- Astrophysics - Instrumentation and Methods for Astrophysics;
- Astrophysics - Earth and Planetary Astrophysics
- 18 pages, 20 figures, 9 tables, accepted for publication in A&