Strategies for Constraining the Atmospheres of Temperate Terrestrial Planets with JWST

Natasha E. Batalha, Nikole K. Lewis, Michael Line, Jeff Valenti, Kevin Stevenson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

75 Scopus citations


The Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) is expected to discover dozens of temperate terrestrial planets orbiting M-dwarfs with atmospheres that could be followed up with the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST). Currently, the TRAPPIST-1 system serves as a benchmark for determining the feasibility and resources required to yield atmospheric constraints. We assess these questions and leverage an information content analysis to determine observing strategies for yielding high-precision spectroscopy in transmission and emission. Our goal is to guide observing strategies of temperate terrestrial planets in preparation for the early JWST cycles. First, we explore JWST's current capabilities and expected spectral precision for targets near the saturation limits of specific modes. In doing so, we highlight the enhanced capabilities of high-efficiency readout patterns that are being considered for implementation in Cycle 2. We propose a partial saturation strategy to increase the achievable precision of JWST's NIRSpec Prism. We show that JWST has the potential to detect the dominant absorbing gas in the atmospheres of temperate terrestrial planets by the 10th transit using transmission spectroscopy techniques in the near-infrared (NIR). We also show that stacking 10 transmission spectroscopy observations is unlikely to yield significant improvements in determining atmospheric composition. For emission spectroscopy, we show that the MIRI Low Resolution Spectroscopy (LRS) is unlikely to provide robust constraints on the atmospheric composition of temperate terrestrial planets. Higher-precision emission spectroscopy at wavelengths longward of those accessible to MIRI LRS, as proposed in the Origins Space Telescope concept, could help improve the constraints on molecular abundances of temperate terrestrial planets orbiting M-dwarfs.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numberL34
JournalAstrophysical Journal Letters
Issue number2
StatePublished - Apr 1 2018


  • atmospheres
  • individual (TRAPPIST-1)
  • methods
  • planets and satellites
  • planets and satellites
  • planets and satellites
  • spectroscopic
  • statistical
  • techniques
  • terrestrial planets

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


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