Over a large range of equilibrium temperatures, clouds shape the transmission spectrum of hot Jupiter atmospheres, yet their composition remains unknown. Recent observations show that the Kepler light curves of some hot Jupiters are asymmetric: for the hottest planets, the light curve peaks before secondary eclipse, whereas for planets cooler than ∼1900 K, it peaks after secondary eclipse. We use the thermal structure from 3D global circulation models to determine the expected cloud distribution and Kepler light curves of hot Jupiters. We demonstrate that the change from an optical light curve dominated by thermal emission to one dominated by scattering (reflection) naturally explains the observed trend from negative to positive offset. For the cool planets the presence of an asymmetry in the Kepler light curve is a telltale sign of the cloud composition, because each cloud species can produce an offset only over a narrow range of effective temperatures. By comparing our models and the observations, we show that the cloud composition of hot Jupiters likely varies with equilibrium temperature. We suggest that a transition occurs between silicate and manganese sulfide clouds at a temperature near 1600 K, analogous to the L/T transition on brown dwarfs. The cold trapping of cloud species below the photosphere naturally produces such a transition and predicts similar transitions for other condensates, including TiO. We predict that most hot Jupiters should have cloudy nightsides, that partial cloudiness should be common at the limb, and that the dayside hot spot should often be cloud-free.
- planets and satellites: atmospheres
- planets and satellites: gaseous planets
- radiative transfer
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Astronomy and Astrophysics
- Space and Planetary Science