The study of exoplanetary atmospheres is one of the most exciting and dynamic frontiers in astronomy. Over the past two decades ongoing surveys have revealed an astonishing diversity in the planetary masses, radii, temperatures, orbital parameters, and host stellar properties of exoplanetary systems. We are now moving into an era where we can begin to address fundamental questions concerning the diversity of exoplanetary compositions, atmospheric and interior processes, and formation histories, just as have been pursued for solar system planets over the past century. Exoplanetary atmospheres provide a direct means to address these questions via their observable spectral signatures. In the last decade, and particularly in the last five years, tremendous progress has been made in detecting atmospheric signatures of exoplanets through photometric and spectroscopic methods using a variety of spaceborne and/or groundbased observational facilities. These observations are beginning to provide important constraints on a wide gamut of atmospheric properties, including pressure-temperature profiles, chemical compositions, energy circulation, presence of clouds, and nonequilibrium processes. The latest studies are also beginning to connect the inferred chemical compositions to exoplanetary formation conditions. In the present chapter, we review the most recent developments in the area of exoplanetary atmospheres. Our review covers advances in both observations and theory of exoplanetary atmospheres, and spans a broad range of exoplanet types (gas giants, ice giants, and super-Earths) and detection methods (transiting planets, direct imaging, and radial velocity). A number of upcoming planet-finding surveys will focus on detecting exoplanets orbiting nearby bright stars, which are the best targets for detailed atmospheric characterization. We close with a discussion of the bright prospects for future studies of exoplanetary atmospheres.
Protostars and Planets VI
- Pub Date:
- Astrophysics - Earth and Planetary Astrophysics
- Accepted for publication as a chapter in Protostars and Planets VI, University of Arizona Press (2014), eds. H. Beuther, R. Klessen, C. Dullemond, Th. Henning. Includes color figures