Pale Orange Dots: The Impact of Organic Haze on the Habitability and Detectability of Earthlike Exoplanets

Giada N. Arney, Victoria S. Meadows, Shawn D. Domagal-Goldman, Drake Deming, Tyler D. Robinson, Guadalupe Tovar, Eric T. Wolf, Edward Schwieterman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

94 Scopus citations


Hazes are common in known planetary atmospheres, and geochemical evidence suggests that early Earth occasionally supported an organic haze with significant environmental and spectral consequences. The UV spectrum of the parent star drives organic haze formation through methane photochemistry. We use a 1D photochemical-climate model to examine production of fractal organic haze on Archean Earth-analogs in the habitable zones of several stellar types: the modern and early Sun, AD Leo (M3.5V), GJ 876 (M4V), Eridani (K2V), and σ Boötis (F2V). For Archean-like atmospheres, planets orbiting stars with the highest UV fluxes do not form haze because of the formation of photochemical oxygen radicals that destroy haze precursors. Organic hazes impact planetary habitability via UV shielding and surface cooling, but this cooling is minimized around M dwarfs, whose energy is emitted at wavelengths where organic hazes are relatively transparent. We generate spectra to test the detectability of haze. For 10 transits of a planet orbiting GJ 876 observed by the James Webb Space Telescope, haze makes gaseous absorption features at wavelengths < 2.5 μm 2-10σ shallower than a haze-free planet, and methane and carbon dioxide are detectable at >5σ. A haze absorption feature can be detected at 5σ near 6.3 μm, but a higher signal-to-noise ratio is needed to distinguish haze from adjacent absorbers. For direct imaging of a planet at 10 pc using a coronagraphic 10 m class ultraviolet-visible-near-infrared telescope, a UV-blue haze absorption feature would be strongly detectable at >12σ in 200 hr.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number49
JournalAstrophysical Journal
Issue number1
StatePublished - Feb 10 2017
Externally publishedYes


  • Earth
  • astrobiology
  • planets and satellites: atmospheres

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


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