Presentation #213.03 in the session “Exoplanets and Systems: Giant Planet Atmospheres 2”.
The observed mass-radius relationship of low-mass planets informs our understanding of their composition and evolution. Recent discoveries of low mass, large radii objects (“super-puffs”) have challenged theories of planet formation and atmospheric loss, as their high inferred gas masses make them vulnerable to runaway accretion and hydrodynamic escape. In this talk, we will discuss how high altitude photochemical hazes could enhance the observed radii of low-mass planets and explain the nature of super-puffs. We construct model atmospheres in radiative-convective equilibrium and compute rates of atmospheric escape and haze distributions, taking into account haze coagulation, sedimentation, diffusion, and advection by an outflow wind. We find that haze opacity is enhanced by the outflow, such that young, warm, low mass objects should experience the most apparent radius enhancement due to hazes, reaching factors of three. This reconciles the densities and ages of the most extreme super-puffs. Hazes also render transmission spectra of super-puffs and sub-Neptunes featureless, consistent with recent measurements. Our hypothesis can be tested by future observations of super-puffs’ transmission spectra at mid-infrared wavelengths, where we predict that the planet radius will be half of that observed in the near-infrared.