A Characteristic Transmission Spectrum dominated by H$_{2}$O applies to the majority of HST/WFC3 exoplanet observations [EPA]


Currently, 19 transiting exoplanets have published transmission spectra obtained with the Hubble/WFC3 G141 near-IR grism. Using this sample, we have undertaken a uniform analysis incorporating measurement-error debiasing of the spectral modulation due to H$_{2}$O, measured in terms of the estimated atmospheric scale height, ${H_s}$. For those planets with a reported H$_{2}$O detection (10 out of 19), the spectral modulation due to H$_{2}$O ranges from 0.9 to 2.9 ${H_s}$ with a mean value of 1.8 ${H_s}$. This spectral modulation is significantly less than predicted for clear atmospheres. For the group of planets in which H$_{2}$O has been detected, we find the individual spectra can be coherently averaged to produce a characteristic spectrum in which the shape, together with the spectral modulation of the sample, are consistent with a range of H$_{2}$O mixing ratios and cloud-top pressures, with a minimum H$_{2}$O mixing ratio of 23 ppm corresponding to the cloud-free case. Using this lower limit, we show that clouds or aerosols must block at least half of the atmospheric column that would otherwise be sampled by transmission spectroscopy in the case of a cloud-free atmosphere. We conclude that terminator-region clouds, with sufficient opacity to be opaque in slant-viewing geometry, are common in hot Jupiters.

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A. Iyer, M. Swain, R. Zellem, et. al.
Wed, 2 Dec 15

Comments: Submitted to ApJ, currently under review