Is the Solar System unique, or are planets ubiquitous in the universe? The answer to this long-standing question implies the understanding of planet formation, but perhaps more relevant, the observational assessment of the existence of other worlds and their frequency in the galaxy. The detection of planets orbiting other suns has always been a challenging task. Fortunately, technological progress together with significant development in data reduction and analysis processes allowed astronomers to finally succeed. The methods used so far are mostly based on indirect approaches, able to detect the influence of the planets on the stellar motion (dynamical methods) or the planet’s shadow as it crosses the stellar disk (transit method). For a growing number of favorable cases, direct imaging has also been successful. The combination of different methods also allowed probing planet interiors, composition, temperature, atmospheres, and orbital architecture. Overall, one can confidently state that planets are common around solar-type stars, low mass planets being the most frequent among them. Despite all the progress, the discovery and characterization of temperate Earth-like worlds, similar to the Earth in both mass and composition and thus potential islands of life in the universe, is still a challenging task. Their low amplitude signals are difficult to detect and are often submerged by the noise produced by different instrumentation sources and astrophysical processes. However, the dawn of a new generation of ground and space-based instruments and missions is promising a new era in this domain.
Nuno C. Santos, Susana C.C. Barros, Olivier D.S. Demangeon, and João P. Faria
Dmitry V. Bisikalo, Pavel V. Kaygorodov, and Valery I. Shematovich
The history of exoplanetary atmospheres studies is strongly based on the observations and investigations of the gaseous envelopes of hot Jupiters—exoplanet gas giants that have masses comparable to the mass of Jupiter and orbital semi-major axes shorter than 0.1 AU. The first exoplanet around a solar-type star was a hot Jupiter discovered in 1995. Researchers found an object that had completely atypical parameters compared to planets known in the solar system. According to their estimates, the object might have a mass about a half of the Jovian mass and a very short orbital period (four days), which means that it has an orbit roughly corresponding to the orbit of Mercury. Later, many similar objects were discovered near different stars, and they acquired a common name—hot Jupiters. It is still unclear what the mechanism is for their origin, because generally accepted theories of planetary evolution predict the formation of giant planets only at large orbital distances, where they can accrete enough matter before the protoplanetary disc disappears. If this is true, before arriving at such low orbits, hot Jupiters might have a long migration path, caused by interactions with other massive planets and/or with the gaseous disc. In favor of this model is the discovery of many hot Jupiters in elliptical and highly inclined orbits, but on the other hand several observed hot Jupiters have circular orbits with low inclination. An alternative hypothesis is that the cores of future hot Jupiters are super-Earths that may later intercept matter from the protoplanetary disk falling on the star. The scientific interest in hot Jupiters has two aspects. The first is the peculiarity of these objects: they have no analogues in the solar system. The second is that, until recently, only for hot Jupiters was it possible to obtain observational characteristics of their atmospheres. Many of the known hot Jupiters are eclipsing their host stars, so, from their light curve and spectral data obtained during an eclipse, it became possible to obtain information about their shape and their atmospheric composition. Thus it is possible to conclude that hot Jupiters are a common type of exoplanet, having no analogues in the solar system. Many aspects of their evolution and internal structure remain unclear. Being very close to their host stars, hot Jupiters must interact with the stellar wind and stellar magnetic field, as well as with stellar flares and coronal mass ejections, allowing researchers to gather information about them. According to UV observations, at least a fraction of hot Jupiters have extended gaseous envelopes, extending far beyond of their upper atmospheres. The envelopes are observable with current astronomical instruments, so it is possible to develop their astrophysical models. The history of hot Jupiter atmosphere studies during the past 20 years and the current status of modern theories describing the extended envelopes of hot Jupiters are excellent examples of the progress in understanding planetary atmospheres formation and evolution both in the solar system and in the extrasolar planetary systems.
Although the second most abundant element in the cosmos is helium, noble gases are also called rare gases. The reason is that they are not abundant on terrestrial planets like the Earth, which is characterized by orders of magnitude depletion of—particularly light—noble gases when compared to the cosmic element abundance pattern. Indeed, geochemical depletion and enrichment processes mean that noble gases are highly versatile tracers of planetary formation and evolution. When our solar system formed—or even before—small grains and first condensates incorporated small amounts of noble gases from the surrounding gas of solar composition, resulting in depletion of light He and Ne relative to heavy Ar, Kr, and Xe, leading to the “planetary type” abundance pattern. Further noble gas depletion occurred during flash heating of mm- to cm-sized objects (chondrules and calcium, aluminum-rich inclusions), and subsequently during heating—and occasionally differentiation—on small planetesimals, which were precursors of planets. Some of these objects are present today in the asteroid belt and are the source of many meteorites. Many primitive meteorites contain very small (micron to sub-micron size) rare grains that are older than our Solar System and condensed billions of years ago in in the atmospheres of different stars, for example, Red Giant stars. These grains are characterized by nucleosynthetic anomalies, in particular the noble gases, such as so-called s-process xenon. While planetesimals acquired a depleted noble gas component strongly fractionated in favor of heavy noble gases, the Sun and also gas giants like Jupiter attracted a much larger amount of gas from the protosolar nebula by gravitational capture. This resulted in a cosmic or “solar type” abundance pattern, containing the full complement of light noble gases. In contrast, terrestrial planets accreted from planetesimals with only minor contributions from the gaseous component of the protosolar nebula, which accounts for their high degree of depletion and essentially “planetary” elemental abundance pattern. The strong depletion in noble gases facilitates their application as noble gas geo- and cosmochronometers; chronological applications are based on being able to determine noble gas isotopes formed by radioactive decay processes, for example, 40Ar by 40K decay, 129Xe by 129I decay, or fission Xe from 238U or 244Pu decay. Particularly ingrowth of radiogenic xenon is only possible due to the depletion of primordial nuclides, which allows insight into the chronology of fractionation of lithophile parent nuclides and atmophile noble gas daughters. Applied to large-scale planetary reservoirs, this helps to elucidate the timing of mantle degassing and evolution of planetary atmospheres. Applied to individual rocks and minerals, it allows radioisotope chronology using short-lived (e.g., 129I–129Xe) or long-lived (e.g., 40K–40Ar) systems. The dominance of 40Ar in the terrestrial atmosphere allowed von Weizsäcker to conclude that most of the terrestrial atmosphere originated by degassing of the solid Earth, which is an ongoing process today at mid-ocean ridges, as indicated by outgassing of primordial helium from newly forming ocean crust. Mantle degassing was much more massive in the past, with most of the terrestrial atmosphere probably formed during the first few 100 million years of Earth’s history, in response to major evolutionary processes of accretion, terrestrial core formation, and the terminal accretion stage of a giant impact that formed our Moon. During accretion, solar noble gases were added to the mantle, presumably by solar wind irradiation of the small planetesimals and dust accreting to form the Earth. While the Moon-forming impact likely dissipated a major fraction of the primordial atmosphere, today’s atmosphere originated by addition of a late veneer of asteroidal and possibly cometary material combined with a decreasing rate of mantle degassing over time. As other atmophile elements behave similarly to noble gases, they also trace the origin of major volatiles on Earth, for example, water, nitrogen, and carbon.
Chemical and phase compositions of the surface of Venus could reflect a history of gas–rock and fluid–rock interactions, recent and past climate changes, and a loss of water from the Earth’s sister planet. The concept of chemical weathering on Venus through gas–solid type reactions was established in the early 1960s after the discovery of the hot and dense CO2-rich atmosphere of the planet, inferred from Earth-based and Mariner 2 radio emission data. Initial models suggested carbonation, hydration, and oxidation of exposed igneous rocks and a control (buffering) of atmospheric gases by solid–gas type chemical equilibria in the near-surface rocks. Carbonates, phyllosilicates and Fe oxides were considered likely secondary minerals. From the late 1970s onward, measurements of trace gases in the sub-cloud atmosphere by the Pioneer Venus and Venera entry probes and by Earth-based infrared spectroscopy challenged the likelihood of hydration and carbonation. The atmospheric H2O gas content appeared to be low enough to allow the stable existence of H2O-bearing and a majority of OH-bearing minerals. The concentration of SO2 gas was too high to allow the stability of Ca-rich carbonates and silicates with respect to sulfatization to CaSO4. In the 1980s, the detection of an elevated bulk S content at the Venera and Vega landing sites suggested ongoing consumption of atmospheric SO2 to surface sulfates. The supposed composition of the near-surface atmosphere implied oxidation of ferrous minerals to Fe oxides, magnetite and hematite, consistent with the infrared reflectance of surface materials. The likelihood of sulfatization and oxidation has been illustrated in modeling experiments in simulated Venus’ conditions. The morphology of Venus’ surface suggests contact of atmospheric gases with hot surface materials of mainly basaltic composition during the several hundreds of millions years since a global volcanic/tectonic resurfacing. Some exposed materials could have reacted at higher and lower temperatures in a presence of diverse gases at different altitudinal, volcanic, impact, and atmospheric settings. On highly deformed tessera terrains, more ancient rocks of unknown composition may reflect interactions with putative water-rich atmospheres and even aqueous solutions. Geological formations rich in salt, carbonate, Fe oxide, or silica will indicate past aqueous processes. The apparent diversity of affected solids, surface temperatures, pressures, and gas/fluid compositions throughout Venus’ history implies multiple signs of chemical alterations that remain to be investigated. The current understanding of chemical weathering is limited by the uncertain composition of the deep atmosphere, by the lack of direct data on the phase and chemical composition of surface materials, and by the uncertain data on thermodynamics of minerals and their solid solutions. In preparation for further atmospheric entry probe and lander missions, rock alteration could be investigated through chemical kinetic experiments and calculations of solid-gas/fluid equilibria to constrain past and present processes.
Ann Carine Vandaele
The atmosphere of Venus is quite different from that of Earth: it is much hotter and denser. The temperature and pressure at the surface are 740 K and 92 atmospheres respectively. Its atmosphere is primarily composed of carbon dioxide (96.5%) and nitrogen (3.5%), the rest being trace gases such as carbon monoxide (CO), water vapor (H2O), halides (HF, HCl), sulfur-bearing species (SO2, SO, OCS, H2S), and noble gases. Sulfur compounds are extremely important in understanding the formation of the Venusian clouds which are believed to be composed of sulfuric acid (H2SO4) droplets. These clouds completely enshroud the planet in a series of layers, extending from 50 to 70 km altitude, and are composed of particles of different sizes and different H2SO4/H2O compositions. These act as a very effective separator between the atmospheres below and above the clouds, which show very distinctive characteristics.
Angela M. Zalucha and Jason Cook
In addition to ground-based observations beginning in the 1970s, NASA’s Voyager 2 spacecraft flew by Triton in 1989, and NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft flew by Pluto in 2015. Prior to the flyby of New Horizons, Pluto and Triton were termed “sister worlds” due to what appeared to be a high degree of similarity in solid-body density, surface ices, diameter, and surface pressures. Despite being small, cold, icy bodies, both Pluto and Triton have been found to have atmospheres that behave as a continuous fluid up to 300 km altitude above the surface and thereby have a defined temperature, surface pressure, and global general circulation (wind). The primary constituent of these atmospheres is molecular nitrogen, with methane and carbon monoxide comprising the largest abundances of trace gases. The surface pressure as measured in the 2010s on both worlds is of the order of 10 microbars (1 Pa = 10 µbar), for these exotic atmospheres exchange mass between sublimation of surface ice and deposition of nitrogen over the course of each body’s year. Ground-based stellar occultation measurements observed a dramatic change in surface pressure, which one study found was as much as a factor of two increase between 1988 and 2003 on Pluto, presumably due to Pluto’s seasonal volatile cycle. Voyager 2 observed plumes and surface “streaks” on Triton, while New Horizons observed dunes (indicating wind speeds of 1–10 m s−1) as well as streaks, evidently indicating the presence of surface and near-surface winds. While wind velocity aloft has not been directly measured on Pluto or Triton, 3-D general circulation modeling studies of both worlds have shown zonal (east–west) wind speeds of the order of 10 m/s, meridional (north–south) wind speeds of the order of 1 m/s, and extremely weak vertical wind speeds. In 2015, New Horizons showed that Pluto and Triton were much more different than previously thought. New Horizons uncovered many spectacular views of Pluto’s atmosphere. First, while hydrocarbon haze was observed on Triton, Pluto had multiple, very distinct stratified haze layers bearing a similar appearance to the layers of an onion. Second, Pluto’s surface elevation was found to be largely inhomogeneous (in contrast to Triton) in the form of a large depression (Sputnik Planitia). Third, the characteristics of the surface markings on Pluto were found to be different than the streaks observed on Triton, which has implications for surface wind patterns. Further major discoveries made by New Horizons included evidence for many hydrocarbon species in trace concentrations, a lower than expected surface pressure, which could previously only be indirectly ascertained from ground-based observations, and a higher mixing ratio of methane at higher altitudes than at lower due to gravitational diffusive separation. Using radio occultation experiments (not conducted by Voyager 2 at Triton), New Horizons confirmed the existence of a stratosphere (temperature increasing with height) extending to 25 km altitude at both the entry and exit locations. The entry location had a shallow troposphere (temperature decreasing with height) extending to 3.5 km altitude above the surface, while the exit location did not.
The planetary boundary layer of Mars is a crucial component of the Martian climate and meteorology, as well as a key driver of the surface-atmosphere exchanges on Mars. As such, it is explored by several landers and orbiters; high-resolution atmospheric modeling is used to interpret the measurements by those spacecrafts. The planetary boundary layer of Mars is particularly influenced by the strong radiative control of the Martian surface and, as a result, features a more extreme version of planetary boundary layer phenomena occurring on Earth. In daytime, the Martian planetary boundary layer is highly turbulent, mixing heat and momentum in the atmosphere up to about 10 kilometers from the surface. Daytime convective turbulence is organized as convective cells and vortices, the latter giving rise to numerous dust devils when dust is lifted and transported in the vortex. The nighttime planetary boundary layer is dominated by stable-layer turbulence, which is much less intense than in the daytime, and slope winds in regions characterized by uneven topography. Clouds and fogs are associated with the planetary boundary layer activity on Mars.
Edik Dubinin, Janet G. Luhmann, and James A. Slavin
Knowledge about the solar wind interactions of Venus, Mars, and Mercury is rapidly expanding. While the Earth is also a terrestrial planet, it has been studied much more extensively and in far greater detail than its companions. As a result we direct the reader to specific references on that subject for obtaining an accurate comparative picture. Due to the strength of the Earth’s intrinsic dipole field, a relatively large volume is carved out in interplanetary space around the planet and its atmosphere. This “magnetosphere” is regarded as a shield from external effects, but in actuality much energy and momentum are channeled into it, especially at high latitudes, where the frequent interconnection between the Earth’s magnetic field and the interplanetary field allows some access by solar wind particles and electric fields to the upper atmosphere and ionosphere. Moreover, reconnection between oppositely directed magnetic fields occurs in Earth’s extended magnetotail—producing a host of other phenomena including injection of a ring current of energized internal plasma from the magnetotail into the inner magnetosphere—creating magnetic storms and enhancements in auroral activity and related ionospheric outflows. There are also permanent, though variable, trapped radiation belts that strengthen and decay with the rest of magnetospheric activity—depositing additional energy into the upper atmosphere over a wider latitude range. Virtually every aspect of the Earth’s solar wind interaction, highly tied to its strong intrinsic dipole field, has its own dedicated textbook chapters and review papers. Although Mercury, Venus, Earth, and Mars belong to the same class of rocky terrestrial planets, their interaction with solar wind is very different. Earth and Mercury have the intrinsic, mainly dipole magnetic field, which protects them from direct exposure by solar wind. In contrast, Venus and Mars have no such shield and solar wind directly impacts their atmospheres/ionospheres. In the first case, intrinsic magnetospheric cavities with a long tail are found. In the second case, magnetospheres are also formed but are generated by the electric currents induced in the conductive ionospheres. The interaction of solar wind with terrestrial planets also varies due to changes caused by different distances to the Sun and large variations in solar irradiance and solar wind parameters. Other important planetary differences like local strong crustal magnetization on Mars and almost total absence of the ionosphere on Mercury create new essential features to the interaction pattern. Solar wind might be also a feasible driver for planetary atmospheric losses of volatiles, which could historically affect the habitability of the terrestrial planets.