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Title: Modelling of the upper atmosphere of gas-giant exoplanets irradiated by low-mass stars
Author: Chadney, Joshua
ISNI:       0000 0004 5367 5263
Awarding Body: Imperial College London
Current Institution: Imperial College London
Date of Award: 2015
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Upper atmospheres of Hot Jupiters are subject to extreme radiation conditions that can result in rapid atmospheric escape. The composition and structure of the upper atmosphere of these planets are affected by the high-energy spectrum of the host star. This emission depends on stellar type and age, which are thus important factors in understanding the behaviour of exoplanetary atmospheres. The work descried in this thesis details the development of a new 1D ionospheric model to describe the upper atmospheres of Extrasolar Giant Plants (EGPs). The model is time-dependent and includes photo-chemistry and diffusive transport. Electron-impact ionisation processes are taken into account through coupling with a suprathermal electron transport code. Neutral composition and temperature profiles are obtained by using a thermospheric model that incorporates atmospheric escape. Atmospheres composed of H, H2, He, and their associated ions are considered. Efforts have been made to obtain accurate X-ray and Extreme Ultraviolet (EUV) spectral irradiance of the stars studied. To this effect, synthetic spectra are used originating from a detailed coronal model for three different low-mass stars of different activity levels: epsilon Eridani, AD Leonis and AU Microscopii. This work is the first study of the ionosphere of EGPs that takes into account the different spectral energy distribution of low-mass stars. In planets subjected to radiation from active stars, the transition from slow, Jeans escape to a regime of rapid hydrodynamic escape at the top of the atmosphere is found to occur at larger orbital distances than for planets around low activity stars (such as the Sun). To correctly estimate the critical orbital distance of this transition, the spectral shape of stellar XUV radiation is important. A novel method to scale the EUV region of the solar spectrum based upon stellar X-ray emission is developed in this work. This new method produces an outcome in terms of the planet's upper atmosphere and escape regime that is very similar to that obtained using a detailed coronal model of the host star. EGP ionospheres at all orbital distances and around all stars studied are dominated by the long-lived H+ ion. In addition, planets in the Jeans escape regime also have a layer in which H3+ is the major ion at the base of the ionosphere. For fast-rotating planets, H3+ densities undergo significant diurnal variations, their peak value being determined by the stellar X-ray flux. In contrast, H+ densities show very little day/night variability and their value is determined by the level of stellar EUV flux. The H3+ peak in EGPs in the rapid hydrodynamic escape regime under strong stellar illumination is pushed to altitudes below the homopause, where this ion is likely to be destroyed through reactions with heavy species (C, O, etc.).
Supervisor: Galand, Marina ; Unruh, Yvonne Sponsor: Science and Technology Facilities Council
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available