Carbon dioxide in exoplanetary atmospheres: rarely dominant compared to carbon monoxide and water in hot, hydrogen-dominated atmopheres

Heng, Kevin; Lyons, James R. (2016). Carbon dioxide in exoplanetary atmospheres: rarely dominant compared to carbon monoxide and water in hot, hydrogen-dominated atmopheres. Astrophysical journal, 817(2), p. 149. Institute of Physics Publishing IOP 10.3847/0004-637X/817/2/149

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We present a comprehensive study of the abundance of carbon dioxide in exoplanetary atmospheres in hot, hydrogen-dominated atmospheres. We construct novel analytical models of systems in chemical equilibrium that include carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, water, methane and acetylene and relate the equilibrium constants of the chemical reactions to temperature and pressure via the tabulated Gibbs free energies. We prove that such chemical systems may be described by a quintic equation for the mixing ratio of methane. By examining the abundances of these molecules across a broad range of temperatures (spanning equilibrium temperatures from 600 to 2500 K), pressures (via temperature–pressure profiles that explore albedo and opacity variations) and carbon-to-oxygen ratios, we conclude that carbon dioxide is subdominant compared to carbon monoxide and water. Atmospheric mixing does not alter this conclusion if carbon dioxide is subdominant everywhere in the atmosphere. Carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide may attain comparable abundances if the metallicity is greatly enhanced, but this property is negated by temperatures above 1000 K. For hydrogen-dominated atmospheres, our generic result has the implication that retrieval studies may wish to set the subdominance of carbon dioxide as a prior of the calculation and not let its abundance completely roam free as a fitting parameter, because it directly affects the inferred value of the carbon-to-oxygen ratio and may produce unphysical conclusions. We discuss the relevance of these implications for the hot Jupiter WASP-12b and suggest that some of the previous results are chemically impossible. The relative abundance of carbon dioxide to acetylene is potentially a sensitive diagnostic of the carbon-to-oxygen ratio.

Item Type:

Journal Article (Original Article)


10 Strategic Research Centers > Center for Space and Habitability (CSH)
08 Faculty of Science > Physics Institute > NCCR PlanetS

UniBE Contributor:

Heng, Kevin


500 Science > 520 Astronomy
500 Science > 530 Physics




Institute of Physics Publishing IOP




Danielle Zemp

Date Deposited:

07 Jun 2018 15:25

Last Modified:

07 Jun 2018 15:25

Publisher DOI:





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