The Pale Orange Dot: Spectral Effects of a Hazy Early Earth
Friday, 19 December 2014
Increasing evidence suggests Archean Earth had a photochemical hydrocarbon haze similar to Titan's (Zerkle et al. 2012), with important climate implications (Pavlov et al. 2001, Trainer et al. 2006, Haqq-Misra et al. 2008, Domagal-Goldman et al. 2008, Wolf and Toon 2012). Observations also suggest hazy exoplanets are common (Sing et al. 2011, Kreidberg et al 2014), so hazy planet spectra will be relevant to future exoplanet spectral characterization missions. Here, we consider the implications of hydrocarbon aerosols on the spectrum of Archean Earth, examining the effect of a haze layer on the detectability of spectral features from putative biosignatures and the Rayleigh scattering slope. We also examine haze's impact on the spectral energy distribution at the planetary surface, which may be important to the co-evolution of life with its environment. Because the atmospheric pressure and haze particle composition of the Archean Earth are poorly constrained, we test the impact of atmospheric pressure and particle density on haze formation. Our study uses a modified version of the 1-D photochemical code developed originally by Kasting et al. (1979) to generate a fractal haze in the model Archean atmosphere. The 1-D line-by-line fully multiple scattering Spectral Mapping Atmospheric Radiative Transfer Model (SMART) (Meadows and Crisp 1996) is then used to generate synthetic spectra of early Earth with haze. We find (Fig 1) that haze scattering significantly depletes the radiation at short wavelengths, strongly affecting the spectral region of the Rayleigh slope, a broadband change in spectral shape detectable at low spectral resolution. At the surface, the spectral energy distribution is shifted towards longer wavelengths, which may be important to photosynthetic life. Thus, the haze may have significant effects on biology, which in turn produces the methane that leads to haze formation, creating feedback loops between biology and the planet.