Recent work has shown that sulfur hazes may arise in the atmospheres of some giant exoplanets, due to the photolysis of H2S. We investigate the impact such a haze would have on an exoplanet's geometric albedo spectrum and how it may affect the direct imaging results of the Wide Field Infrared Survey Telescope (WFIRST), a planned NASA space telescope. For temperate (250 K < T eq < 700 K) Jupiter-mass planets, photochemical destruction of H2S results in the production of ∼1 ppmv of S8 between 100 and 0.1 mbar, which, if cool enough, will condense to form a haze. Nominal haze masses are found to drastically alter a planet's geometric albedo spectrum: whereas a clear atmosphere is dark at wavelengths between 0.5 and 1 μm, due to molecular absorption, the addition of a sulfur haze boosts the albedo there to ∼0.7, due to scattering. Strong absorption by the haze shortward of 0.4 μm results in albedos <0.1, in contrast to the high albedos produced by Rayleigh scattering in a clear atmosphere. As a result, the color of the planet shifts from blue to orange. The existence of a sulfur haze masks the molecular signatures of methane and water, thereby complicating the characterization of atmospheric composition. Detection of such a haze by WFIRST is possible, though discriminating between a sulfur haze and any other highly reflective, high-altitude scatterer will require observations shortward of 0.4 μm, which is currently beyond WFIRST's design.
- planets and satellites: atmospheres
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Astronomy and Astrophysics
- Space and Planetary Science