Detecting ocean glint on exoplanets using multiphase mapping

Jacob Lustig-Yaeger, Victoria S. Meadows, Guadalupe Tovar Mendoza, Edward W. Schwieterman, Yuka Fujii, Rodrigo Luger, Tyler D. Robinson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

31 Scopus citations


Rotational mapping and specular reflection (glint) are two proposed methods to directly detect liquid water on the surface of habitable exoplanets. However, false positives for both methods may prevent the unambiguous detection of exoplanet oceans. We use simulations of Earth as an exoplanet to introduce a combination of multiwavelength, multiphase, time-series direct-imaging observations and accompanying analyses that may improve the robustness of exoplanet ocean detection by spatially mapping the ocean glint signal. As the planet rotates, the glint spot appears to "blink" as Lambertian scattering continents interrupt the specular reflection from the ocean. This manifests itself as a strong source of periodic variability in crescent-phase disk-integrated reflected light curves. We invert these light curves to constrain the longitudinal slice maps and apparent albedo of multiple surfaces at both quadrature and crescent phase. At crescent phase, the retrieved apparent albedo of ocean-bearing longitudinal slices is increased by a factor of 5, compared to the albedo at quadrature phase, due to the contribution from glint. The land-bearing slices exhibit no significant change in apparent albedo with phase. The presence of forwardscattering clouds in our simulated observation increases the overall reflectivity toward crescent, but we find that clouds do not correlate with any specific surfaces, thereby allowing for the phase-dependent glint effect to be interpreted as distinct from cloud scattering. Retrieving the same longitudinal map at quadrature and crescent phases may be used to tie changes in the apparent albedo with phase back to specific geographic surfaces (or longstanding atmospheric features), although this requires ideal geometries. We estimate that crescent-phase timedependent glint measurements are feasible for between 1 and 10 habitable zone exoplanets orbiting the nearest G, K, and M dwarfs using a space-based, high-contrast, direct-imaging telescope with a diameter between 6 and 15 m.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numberaaed3a
JournalAstronomical Journal
Issue number6
StatePublished - 2018


  • Astrobiology
  • Planetary systems
  • Planets and satellites: Oceans
  • Planets and satellites: Surfaces
  • Planets and satellites: Terrestrial planets

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


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