A Theory of Exoplanet Transits with Light Scattering

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47 Scopus citations


Exoplanet transit spectroscopy enables the characterization of distant worlds, and will yield key results for NASA's James Webb Space Telescope. However, transit spectra models are often simplified, omitting potentially important processes like refraction and multiple scattering. While the former process has seen recent development, the effects of light multiple scattering on exoplanet transit spectra have received little attention. Here, we develop a detailed theory of exoplanet transit spectroscopy that extends to the full refracting and multiple scattering case. We explore the importance of scattering for planet-wide cloud layers, where the relevant parameters are the slant scattering optical depth, the scattering asymmetry parameter, and the angular size of the host star. The latter determines the size of the "target" for a photon that is back-mapped from an observer. We provide results that straightforwardly indicate the potential importance of multiple scattering for transit spectra. When the orbital distance is smaller than 10-20 times the stellar radius, multiple scattering effects for aerosols with asymmetry parameters larger than 0.8-0.9 can become significant. We provide examples of the impacts of cloud/haze multiple scattering on transit spectra of a hot Jupiter-like exoplanet. For cases with a forward and conservatively scattering cloud/haze, differences due to multiple scattering effects can exceed 200 ppm, but shrink to zero at wavelength ranges corresponding to strong gas absorption or when the slant optical depth of the cloud exceeds several tens. We conclude with a discussion of types of aerosols for which multiple scattering in transit spectra may be important.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number236
JournalAstrophysical Journal
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 20 2017
Externally publishedYes


  • planets and satellites: general
  • radiative transfer
  • scattering

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


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