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Nature. 2010 Dec 2;468(7324):669-72. doi: 10.1038/nature09596.

A ground-based transmission spectrum of the super-Earth exoplanet GJ 1214b.

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Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, 60 Garden Street, Cambridge, Massachusetts 02138, USA.


In contrast to planets with masses similar to that of Jupiter and higher, the bulk compositions of planets in the so-called super-Earth regime (masses 2-10 times that of the Earth) cannot be uniquely determined from a measurement of mass and radius alone. For these planets, there is a degeneracy between the mass and composition of both the interior and a possible atmosphere in theoretical models. The recently discovered transiting super-Earth exoplanet GJ 1214b is one example of this problem. Three distinct models for the planet that are consistent with its mass and radius have been suggested. Breaking the degeneracy between these models requires obtaining constraints on the planet's atmospheric composition. Here we report a ground-based measurement of the transmission spectrum of GJ 1214b between wavelengths of 780 and 1,000 nm. The lack of features in this spectrum rules out (at 4.9σ confidence) cloud-free atmospheres composed primarily of hydrogen. If the planet's atmosphere is hydrogen-dominated, then it must contain clouds or hazes that are optically thick at the observed wavelengths at pressures less than 200 mbar. Alternatively, the featureless transmission spectrum is also consistent with the presence of a dense, water vapour atmosphere.


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