Information Content Analysis for Selection of Optimal JWST Observing Modes for Transiting Exoplanet Atmospheres

Natasha E. Batalha, Michael Line

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

51 Scopus citations


The James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) is nearing its launch date of 2018, and is expected to revolutionize our knowledge of exoplanet atmospheres. In order to specifically identify which observing modes will be most useful for characterizing a diverse range of exoplanetary atmospheres, we use an information content (IC) based approach commonly used in the studies of solar system atmospheres. We develop a system based upon these IC methods to trace the instrumental and atmospheric model phase space in order to identify which observing modes are best suited for particular classes of planets, focusing on transmission spectra. Specifically, the atmospheric parameter space we cover is T = 600-1800 K, C/O = 0.55-1, [M/H] = 1-100 × Solar for an R = 1.39 R J, M = 0.59 M J planet orbiting a WASP-62-like star. We also explore the influence of a simplified opaque gray cloud on the IC. We find that obtaining broader wavelength coverage over multiple modes is preferred over higher precision in a single mode given the same amount of observing time. Regardless of the planet temperature and composition, the best modes for constraining terminator temperatures, C/O ratios, and metallicity are NIRISS SOSS+NIRSpec G395. If the target's host star is dim enough such that the NIRSpec prism is applicable, then it can be used instead of NIRISS SOSS+NIRSpec G395. Lastly, observations that use more than two modes should be carefully analyzed because sometimes the addition of a third mode results in no gain of information. In these cases, higher precision in the original two modes is favorable.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number151
JournalAstronomical Journal
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 2017


  • methods: statistical
  • planets and satellites: atmospheres
  • techniques: spectroscopic
  • telescopes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


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