Linking the Climate and Thermal Phase Curve of 55 Cancri e [EPA]

The thermal phase curve of 55 Cancri e is the first measurement of the temperature distribution of a tidally locked Super-Earth, but raises a number of puzzling questions about the planet’s climate. The phase curve has a high amplitude and peak offset, suggesting that it has a significant eastward hot-spot shift as well as a large day-night temperature contrast. We use a general circulation model to model potential climates, and investigate the relation between bulk atmospheric composition and the magnitude of these seemingly contradictory features. We confirm theoretical models of tidally locked circulation are consistent with our numerical model of 55 Cnc e, and rule out certain atmospheric compositions based on their thermodynamic properties. Our best-fitting atmosphere has a significant hot-spot shift and day-night contrast, although these are not as large as the observed phase curve. We discuss possible physical processes which could explain the observations, and show that night-side cloud formation from species such as SiO from a day-side magma ocean could potentially increase the phase curve amplitude and explain the observations. We conclude that the observations could be explained by an optically thick atmosphere with a low mean molecular weight, a surface pressure of several bar and a strong eastward circulation, with night-side cloud formation a possible explanation for the difference between our model and the observations.

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M. Hammond and R. Pierrehumbert
Wed, 11 Oct 17

Comments: Accepted for publication in ApJ