The present infrared brightness of a planet originates partly from the accretion energy that the planet gained during its formation and hence provides important constraints to the planet formation process. A planet cools down from a hot initial state to the present state by losing energy through radiative emission from its atmosphere. Thus, the atmospheric properties affect the planetary cooling rate. Previous theories of giant planet cooling assume that the atmospheric composition is unchanged throughout the evolution. Planet formation theories, however, suggest that the atmospheres especially of ice giants are rich in heavy elements in the early stages. These heavy elements include condensable species such as H2O, NH3, and CH4, which are expected to have a great impact on atmospheric temperature and thus on radiative emission through latent heat release. In this study we investigate the effect of such condensation on the planetary emission flux and quantify the impact on the cooling timescale. We then demonstrate that the latent heat of these species keeps the atmosphere hot and thus the emission flux high for billions of years, resulting in an acceleration of the cooling of ice giants. This sheds light on the long-standing problem that Uranus is much less bright than theoretically predicted and is different in brightness from Neptune in spite of the similarity in mass and radius. We also find that young ice giants with highly enriched atmospheres are much brighter in the mid-infrared than ice giants with non-enriched atmospheres. This provides important implications for future direct imaging of extrasolar ice giants.
The Astronomical Journal
- Pub Date:
- June 2017
- planets and satellites: atmospheres;
- planets and satellites: interiors;
- Astrophysics - Earth and Planetary Astrophysics