Context. The cross-correlation technique is a well-tested method for exoplanet characterization, having lead to the detection of various molecules, to constraints on atmospheric temperature profiles, wind speeds, and planetary spin rates. A new, potentially powerful application of this technique is the measurement of atmospheric isotope ratios. In particular D/H can give unique insights into the formation and evolution of planets, and their atmospheres.
Aims: In this paper we aim to study the detectability of molecular isotopologues in the high-dispersion spectra of exoplanet atmospheres, to identify the optimal wavelength ranges to conduct such studies, and to predict the required observational efforts - both with current and future ground-based instrumentation.
Methods: High-dispersion (R = 100 000) thermal emission spectra, and in some cases reflection spectra, were simulated by self-consistent modeling of the atmospheric structures and abundances of exoplanets over a wide range of effective temperatures. These were synthetically observed with a telescope equivalent to the VLT and/or ELT, and analyzed using the cross-correlation technique, resulting in signal-to-noise ratio predictions for the 13CO, HDO, and CH3D isotopologues.
Results: We find that for the best observable exoplanets, 13CO is well in range of current telescopes. We predict it will be most favorably detectable at 2.4 μm, just longward of the wavelength regions probed by several high-dispersion spectroscopic observations presented in the literature. CH3D can be best targeted at 4.7 μm, and may be detectable using 40 m-class telescopes for planets below 600 K in equilibrium temperature. In this case, the sky background becomes the dominating noise source for self-luminous planets. HDO is best targeted at 3.7 μm, and is less affected by sky background noise. 40 m-class telescopes may lead to its detection for planets with Tequ below 900 K. It could already be in the range of current 8 m-class telescopes in the case of quenched methane abundances. Finally, if Proxima Cen b is water-rich, the HDO isotopologue could be detected with the ELT in 1 night of observing time in its reflected-light spectrum.
Conclusions: Isotopologues will soon be a part of the exoplanet characterisation tools. Measuring D/H in exoplanets, and ratios of other isotopes, could become a prime science case for the first-light instrument METIS on the European ELT, especially for nearby temperate rocky and ice giant planets. This can provide unique insights in their history of icy-body enrichment and atmospheric evaporation processes.
Astronomy and Astrophysics
- Pub Date:
- February 2019
- methods: numerical;
- planets and satellites: atmospheres;
- radiative transfer;
- Astrophysics - Earth and Planetary Astrophysics
- 22 pages, 12 figures, updated version, accepted for publication in A &