The Air Over There: Exploring Exoplanet Atmospheres

T he atmospheric composition for a rocky exoplanet will depend strongly on the planet’s bulk composition and orbital position. Nontraditional gases may be present in the atmospheres of exceptionally hot planets. Atmospheres of more clement planets will depend on the abundance of volatiles acquired during planet formation and atmospheric removal processes, including escape, condensation, and reaction with the surface. To date, observations of exoplanet atmospheres have focused on giant planets, but future space- and ground-based observatories will revolutionize the precision and spectral resolution with which we can probe an exoplanet’s atmosphere. This article consolidates lessons learned from the study of giant planet atmospheres, and points to the observations and challenges on the horizon for terrestrial planets.

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