The Neptune-mass GJ 436b is one of the most studied transiting exoplanets with repeated measurements of its thermal emission and transmission spectra. We build on previous studies to answer outstanding questions about this planet, including its potentially high metallicity and tidal heating of its interior. We present new observations of GJ 436b's thermal emission at 3.6 and 4.5 μm, which reduce uncertainties in estimates of GJ 436b's flux at those wavelengths and demonstrate consistency between Spitzer observations spanning more than 7 yr. We analyze the Spitzer thermal emission photometry and Hubble WFC3 transmission spectrum. We use a dual-pronged modeling approach of both self-consistent and retrieval models. We vary the metallicity, intrinsic luminosity from tidal heating, disequilibrium chemistry, and heat redistribution. We also study clouds and photochemical hazes, but do not find strong evidence for either. The self-consistent and retrieval models combine to suggest that GJ 436b has a high atmospheric metallicity, with best fits at or above several hundred times solar metallicity, tidal heating warming its interior with best-fit intrinsic effective temperatures around 300-350 K, and disequilibrium chemistry. High metal enrichments (>600× solar) occur from the accretion of rocky, rather than icy, material. Assuming the interior temperature T int ∼ 300-350 K, we find a dissipation factor Q′ ∼ 2 × 105-106, larger than Neptune's Q′, implying a long tidal circularization timescale for the orbit. We suggest that Neptune-mass planets may be more diverse than imagined, with metal enhancements spanning several orders of magnitude, to perhaps over 1000× solar metallicity. High-fidelity observations with instruments like the James Webb Space Telescope will be critical for characterizing this diversity.
- planets and satellites: atmospheres
- planets and satellites: composition
- planets and satellites: gaseous planets
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Astronomy and Astrophysics
- Space and Planetary Science