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Lava worlds: characterising atmospheres of impossible nature

Over the last three decades, the discovery of exoplanets has revealed the boundless variety of worlds beyond our own Solar System⁠. Majority of planetary systems contain short-period planets that are larger than Earth but smaller than Neptune⁠.

Zilinskas, M.
24 May 2023
Thesis in Leiden Repository

For rocky planets, the strong irradiation causes the surface to melt, forming dayside oceans of molten silicates⁠. These are known as lava worlds⁠. From a theoretical standpoint, lava worlds are expected to outgas silicate-rich atmospheres, which can be characterised using spectroscopy techniques⁠. Spectroscopy allows astronomers to single out a multitude of chemical species in exoplanets, and with the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), it is now possible to characterise even rocky planets⁠.To reinforce our understanding of distant worlds it is critical that we can reproduce the observed results using computational models⁠. A variety approaches exist, however due to their flexibility and adaptability, using averaged 1-D models is prefered⁠. The work in this thesis heavily focuses on using 1-D chemistry and radiative-transfer codes to simulate atmospheres of super-Earths and sub-Neptunes, including volatile and silicate-rich compositions⁠. The main goal is to guide observers to potentially detectable species that would help us gain insight into many of the drawn assumptions⁠. The research done indicates a multitude of detectable species such as HCN, CN, CO, SiO, and SiO2⁠. Models also show that silicate atmospheres are plagued with deep temperature inversions, strongly affecting observability⁠. Most of the presented results are especially applicable to low-resolution infrared spectroscopy for observations with JWST⁠.

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