Exoplanet weather and climate regimes with clouds and thermal ionospheres: a model grid study in support of large-scale observational campaigns

Christiane Helling*, Dominic Samra, David Lewis, Robb Calder, Georgina Hirst, Peter Woitke, Robin Baeyens, Ludmila Carone, Oliver Herbort, Katy L. Chubb

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Citations (Scopus)
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Context. Gaseous exoplanets are the targets that enable us to explore fundamentally our understanding of planetary physics and chemistry. With observational efforts moving from the discovery into the characterisation mode, systematic campaigns that cover large ranges of global stellar and planetary parameters will be needed to disentangle the diversity of exoplanets and their atmospheres that all are affected by their formation and evolutionary paths. Ideally, the spectral range includes the high-energy (ionisation) and the low-energy (phase-transitions) processes as they carry complementary information of the same object. 

Aims. We aim to uncover cloud formation trends and globally changing chemical regimes into which gas-giant exoplanets may fall due to the host star’s effect on the thermodynamic structure of their atmospheres. We aim to examine the emergence of an ionosphere as indicator for potentially asymmetric magnetic field effects on these atmospheres. We aim to provide input for exoplanet missions such as JWST, PLATO, and Ariel, as well as potential UV missions ARAGO, PolStar, or POLLUX on LUVOIR. 

Methods. Pre-calculated 3D GCMs for M, K, G, F host stars are the input for our kinetic cloud model for the formation of nucleation seeds, the growth to macroscopic cloud particles and their evaporation, gravitational settling, element conservation and gas chemistry. 

Results. Gaseous exoplanets fall broadly into three classes: i) cool planets with homogeneous cloud coverage, ii) intermediate temperature planets with asymmetric dayside cloud coverage, and iii) ultra-hot planets without clouds on the dayside. In class ii), the dayside cloud patterns are shaped by the wind flow and irradiation. Surface gravity and planetary rotation have little effect. For a given effective temperature, planets around K dwarfs are rotating faster compared to G dwarfs leading to larger cloud inhomogeneities in the fast rotating case. Extended atmosphere profiles suggest the formation of mineral haze in form of metal-oxide clusters (e.g. (TiO2)N). Conclusions. The dayside cloud coverage is the tell-tale sign for the different planetary regimes and their resulting weather and climate appearance. Class (i) is representative of planets with a very homogeneous cloud particle size and material compositions across the globe (e.g., HATS-6b, NGTS-1b), classes (ii, e.g., WASP-43b, HD 209458b) and (iii, e.g., WASP-121b, WP 0137b) have a large day-night divergence of the cloud properties. The C/O ratio is, hence, homogeneously affected in class (i), but asymmetrically in class (ii) and (iii). The atmospheres of class (i) and (ii) planets are little affected by thermal ionisation, but class (iii) planets exhibit a deep ionosphere on the dayside. Magnetic coupling will therefore affect different planets differently and will be more efficient on the more extended, cloud-free dayside. How the ionosphere connects atmospheric mass loss at the top of the atmosphere with deep atmospheric layers need to be investigated to coherently interpret high resolution observations of ultra-hot planets.
Original languageEnglish
Article numberA122
Number of pages35
JournalAstronomy & Astrophysics
Early online date14 Mar 2023
Publication statusPublished - 14 Mar 2023


  • Planets and satellites: gaseous planets
  • Planets and satellites: atmospheres
  • Planets and satellites: composition
  • (Stars:) brown dwarfs


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