Water Ice Cloud Variability and Multi-epoch Transmission Spectra of TRAPPIST-1e

E. M. May, J. Taylor, T. D. Komacek, M. R. Line, V. Parmentier

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Scopus citations


The precise characterization of terrestrial atmospheres with the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) is one of the utmost goals of exoplanet astronomy in the next decade. With JWST's impending launch, it is crucial that we are well prepared to understand the subtleties of terrestrial atmospheres - particularly ones that we may have not needed to consider before due to instrumentation limitations. In this work we show that patchy ice cloud variability is present in the upper atmospheres of M-dwarf terrestrial planets, particularly along the limbs. Here we test whether these variable clouds will introduce unexpected biases in the multi-epoch observations necessary to constrain atmospheric abundances. Using 3D ExoCAM general circulation models of TRAPPIST-1e, we simulate five different climates with varying pCO2 to explore the strength of this variability. These models are post-processed using NASA Goddard's Planetary Spectrum Generator and PandExo to generate simulated observations with JWST's NIRSpec PRISM mode at 365 different temporal outputs from each climate. Assuming the need for 10 transits of TRAPPIST-1e to detect molecular features at great confidence, we then use CHIMERA to retrieve on several randomly selected weighted averages of our simulated observations to explore the effect of multi-epoch observations with variable cloud cover along the limb on retrieved abundances. We find that the variable spectra do not affect retrieved abundances at detectable levels for our sample of TRAPPIST-1e models.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numberL30
JournalAstrophysical Journal Letters
Issue number2
StatePublished - Apr 1 2021

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


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