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GJ1214b
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Title: The Flat Transmission Spectrum of the Super-Earth GJ1214b from Wide Field Camera 3 on the Hubble Space Telescope
Authors: Zachory K. Berta, David Charbonneau, Jean-Michel Désert, Eliza Miller-Ricci Kempton, Peter R. McCullough, Christopher J. Burke, Jonathan J. Fortney, Jonathan Irwin, Philip Nutzman, Derek Homeier

Capitalising on the observational advantage offered by its tiny M dwarf host, we present HST/WFC3 grism measurements of the transmission spectrum of the super-Earth exoplanet GJ1214b. These are the first published WFC3 observations of a transiting exoplanet atmosphere. After correcting for a ramp-like instrumental systematic, we achieve nearly photon-limited precision in these observations, finding the transmission spectrum of GJ1214b to be flat between 1.1 and 1.7 microns. Inconsistent with a cloud-free solar composition atmosphere at 8.2 sigma, the measured achromatic transit depth most likely implies a large mean molecular weight for GJ1214b's outer envelope. A dense atmosphere rules out bulk compositions for GJ1214b that explain its large radius by the presence of a very low density gas layer surrounding the planet. High-altitude clouds can alternatively explain the flat transmission spectrum, but they would need to be optically thick up to 10 mbar or consist of particles with a range of sizes approaching 1 micron in diameter.

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Title: Optical to near-infrared transit observations of super-Earth GJ1214b: water-world or mini-Neptune?
Authors: E.J.W. de Mooij (1), M. Brogi (1), R.J. de Kok (2), J. Koppenhoefer (3,4), S.V. Nefs (1), I.A.G. Snellen (1), J. Greiner (4), J. Hanse (1), R.C. Heinsbroek (1), C.H. Lee (3), P.P. van der Werf (1), ((1) Leiden Observatory, Leiden University, (2) SRON Utrecht, (3) Universitats-Sternwarte Munchen, (4) Max-Planck-Institut fur extraterrestrische Physik)

GJ1214b is thought to be either a mini-Neptune with a thick, hydrogen-rich atmosphere, or a planet with a composition dominated by water. In the case of a hydrogen-rich atmosphere, molecular absorption and scattering processes may result in detectable radius variations as a function of wavelength. The aim of this paper is to measure these variations. We have obtained observations of the transit of GJ1214b in the r- and I-band with the INT, in the g, r, i and z bands with the 2.2 meter MPI/ESO telescope, in the Ks-band with the NOT, and in the Kc-band with the WHT. By comparing the transit depth between the different bands, which is a measure for the planet-to-star size ratio, the atmosphere is investigated. We do not detect clearly significant variations in the planet-to-star size ratio as function of wavelength. Although the ratio at the shortest measured wavelength, in g-band, is 2sigma larger than in the other bands. The uncertainties in the Ks and Kc bands are large, due to systematic features in the light curves. The tentative increase in the planet-to-star size ratio at the shortest wavelength could be a sign of an increase in the effective planet-size due to Rayleigh scattering, which would require GJ1214b to have a hydrogen-rich atmosphere. If true, then the atmosphere has to have both clouds, to suppress planet-size variations at red optical wavelengths, as well as a sub-solar metallicity, to suppress strong molecular features in the near- and mid-infrared. However, star spots, which are known to be present on the hoststar's surface, can (partly) cancel out the expected variations in planet-to-star size ratio, due to the lower surface temperature of the spots . A hypothetical spot-fraction of 10% would be able to raise the infrared points sufficiently with respect to the optical measurements to be inconsistent with a water-dominated atmosphere.

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Title: Atmospheric Circulation and Composition of GJ1214b
Authors: Kristen Menou

The exoplanet GJ1214b presents an interesting example of compositional degeneracy for low-mass planets. Its atmosphere may be composed of water, super-solar or solar metallicity material. We present atmospheric circulation models of GJ1214b for these three compositions, with explicit grey radiative transfer and an optional treatment of MHD bottom drag. All models develop strong, superrotating zonal winds (~ 1-2 km/s). The degree of eastward heat advection, which can be inferred from secondary eclipse and thermal phase curve measurements, varies greatly between the models. These differences are understood as resulting from variations in the radiative times at the thermal photosphere, caused by separate molecular weight and opacity effects. Our GJ1214b models illustrate how atmospheric circulation can be used as a probe of composition for tidally-locked exoplanets in the mini-Neptune/waterworld class.

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Title: High Resolution, Differential, Near-infrared Transmission Spectroscopy of GJ 1214b
Authors: I. J. M. Crossfield (1), B. M. S. Hansen (1), T. Barman (2) ((1) UCLA, (2) Lowell Observatory)

The nearby star GJ 1214 hosts a planet intermediate in radius and mass between Earth and Neptune, resulting in some uncertainty as to its nature. We have observed this planet, GJ 1214b, during transit with the high-resolution, near-infrared NIRSPEC spectrograph on the Keck II telescope, in order to characterize the planet's atmosphere. By cross-correlating the spectral changes through transit with a suite of theoretical atmosphere models, we search for variations associated with absorption in the planet atmosphere. Our observations are sufficient to rule out tested model atmospheres with wavelength-dependent transit depth variations >5e-4 over the wavelength range 2.1 - 2.4 micron. Our sensitivity is limited by variable slit loss and telluric transmission effects.
We find no positive signatures but successfully rule out a number of plausible atmospheric models, including the default assumption of a gaseous, H-dominated atmosphere in chemical equilibrium. Such an atmosphere can be made consistent if the absorption due to methane is reduced. Clouds can also render such an atmosphere consistent with our observations, but only if they lie higher in the atmosphere than indicated by recent optical and infrared measurements.
When taken in concert with constraints from other groups, our results support a consensus model in which the atmosphere of GJ 1214b contains significant H and He, but where methane is depleted. If this depletion is the result of photochemical processes, it may also produce a haze that suppresses spectral features in the optical.

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Title: Observational evidence for a metal rich atmosphere on the super-Earth GJ1214b
Authors: Jean-Michel Désert, Jacob Bean, Eliza Miller-Ricci Kempton, Zachory K. Berta, David Charbonneau, Jonathan Irwin, Jonathan J. Fortney, Christopher J. Burke, Philip Nutzman

We report observations of two consecutive transits of the warm super-Earth exoplanet GJ1214b at 3.6 and 4.5 microns with the Infrared Array Camera instrument on-board the Spitzer Space Telescope. The two transit light curves allow for the determination of the transit parameters for this system. We find these paremeters to be consistent with the previously determined values and no evidence for transit timing variations. The main investigation consists of measuring the transit depths in each bandpass to constrain the planet's transmission spectrum. Fixing the system scale and impact parameters, we measure R_p/R_star=0.1176 (+0.0008/-0.0009) and 0.1163 (+0.0010/-0.0008) at 3.6 and 4.5 microns, respectively. Combining these data with the previously reported MEarth Observatory measurements in the red optical yields constraints on the GJ1214b's transmission spectrum and allows us to rule-out a cloud-free, solar composition (i.e., hydrogen-dominated) atmosphere at 4.5 sigma confidence. This independently confirms a recent finding that was based on a measurement of the planet's transmission spectrum using the VLT. The Spitzer, MEarth, and VLT observations together yield a remarkably flat transmission spectrum over the large wavelength domain spanned by the data. Consequently, cloud-free atmospheric models require more than 30% metals (assumed to be in the form of H2O by volume to be consistent with all the observations.

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Title: APOSTLE Observations of GJ 1214b: System Parameters and Evidence for Stellar Activity
Authors: P. Kundurthy, E. Agol, A. C. Becker, R. Barnes, B. Williams, A. Mukadam

We present three transits of GJ 1214b, observed as part of the Apache Point Observatory Survey of Transit Lightcurves of Exoplanets (APOSTLE). We used APOSTLE r-band lightcurves in conjunction with previously gathered data of GJ 1214b to re-derive system parameters. By using parameters such as transit duration and ingress/egress length we are able to reduce the degeneracies between parameters in the fitted transit model, which is a preferred condition for Markov Chain Monte Carlo techniques typically used to quantify uncertainties in measured parameters. The joint analysis of this multi-wavelength dataset confirms earlier estimates of system parameters including planetary orbital period, the planet-to-star radius ratio and stellar density. We fit the photometric spectralenergy distribution of GJ 1214 to derive stellar luminosity, which we then use to derive its absolute mass and radius. From these derived stellar properties and previously published radial velocity data we were able to refine estimates of the absolute parameters for the planet GJ 1214b. Transit times derived from our study show no evidence for strong transit timing variations. Some lightcurves we present show features that we believe are due to stellar activity. During the first night we observed a rise in the out-of-eclipse flux of GJ 1214 with a characteristic fast-rise exponential decay shape commonly associated with stellar flares. On the second night we observed a minor brightening during transit, which we believe might have been caused by the planet obscuring a star-spot on the stellar disk.

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GJ1214 Super-Earth System
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Title: The GJ1214 Super-Earth System: Stellar Variability, New Transits, and a Search for Additional Planets
Authors: Zachory K. Berta, David Charbonneau, Jacob Bean, Jonathan Irwin, Christopher J. Burke, Jean-Michel Désert, Philip Nutzman, Emilio E. Falco

The super-Earth GJ1214b transits a nearby M dwarf that exhibits 1% intrinsic variability in the near-infrared. Here, we analyse new observations to refine the physical properties of both the star and planet. We present three years of out-of-transit photometric monitoring of the stellar host GJ1214 from the MEarth Observatory and estimate the stellar rotation period to be 52.7±5.3 days, suggesting low levels of magnetic activity and an old age for the system. We show such variability will not pose significant problems to ongoing studies of the planet's atmosphere with transmission spectroscopy. We analyse 2 high-precision transit light curves from ESO's Very Large Telescope along with 7 others from the MEarth and FLWO 1.2 meter telescopes, finding physical parameters for the planet that are consistent with previous work. The VLT light curves show tentative evidence for spot occultations during transit. Using two years of MEarth light curves, we place limits on additional transiting planets around GJ1214 with periods out to the habitable zone of the system. We also improve upon the previous photographic V-band estimate for the star, finding V=14.71±0.03.

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NASA Aids in Characterising Super-Earth Atmosphere

A team of astronomers, including two NASA Sagan Fellows, has made the first characterisations of a super-Earth's atmosphere, by using a ground-based telescope. A super-Earth is a planet up to three times the size of Earth and weighing up to 10 times as much. The findings, reported in the Dec. 2 issue of the journal Nature, are a significant milestone toward eventually being able to probe the atmospheres of Earth-like planets for signs of life.
The team determined the planet, GJ 1214b, is either blanketed with a thin layer of water steam or surrounded by a thick layer of high clouds. If the former, the planet itself would have an icy composition. If the latter, the planet would be rocky or similar to the composition of Neptune, though much smaller.

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Atmosphere of distant super-Earth may contain a Titan-like cloak.

Spectroscopic observations of a distant planet swooping across the face of its sun have given astronomers a first-ever look at the atmosphere of an Earth-like planet lying beyond our Solar System. The new data don't provide a precise list of gaseous constituents, but they do indicate that the atmosphere is not one of cloud-free hydrogen.
The planet, dubbed GJ 1214b when it was discovered late last year, tightly orbits a red-dwarf star about 13 parsecs from Earth. With a mass about 6.5 times that of Earth, it is one of the smallest exoplanets yet discovered, and previous observations suggest that the planet's density is far too low for it to be a bare solid object with no atmosphere.

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First Super-Earth Atmosphere Analysed

The atmosphere around a super-Earth exoplanet has been analysed for the first time by an international team of astronomers using ESO's Very Large Telescope. The planet, which is known as GJ 1214b, was studied as it passed in front of its parent star and some of the starlight passed through the planet's atmosphere. We now know that the atmosphere is either mostly water in the form of steam or is dominated by thick clouds or hazes. The results will appear in the 2 December 2010 issue of the journal Nature.
The planet GJ 1214b was discovered in 2009 using the HARPS instrument on ESO's 3.6-metre telescope in Chile. Initial findings suggested that this planet had an atmosphere, which has now been confirmed and studied in detail by an international team of astronomers, led by Jacob Bean (Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics), using the FORS instrument on ESO's Very Large Telescope.

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