Article

The need for laboratory work to aid in the understanding of exoplanetary atmospheres

Advancements in our understanding of exoplanetary atmospheres, from massive gas giants down to rocky worlds, depend on the constructive challenges between observations and models. We are now on a clear trajectory for improvements in exoplanet observations that will revolutionize our ability to characterize the atmospheric structure, composition, and circulation of these worlds. These improvements stem from significant investments in new missions and facilities, such as JWST and the several planned ground-based extremely large telescopes. However, while exoplanet science currently has a wide range of sophisticated models that can be applied to the tide of forthcoming observations, the trajectory for preparing these models for the upcoming observational challenges is unclear. Thus, our ability to maximize the insights gained from the next generation of observatories is not certain. In many cases, uncertainties in a path towards model advancement stems from insufficiencies in the laboratory data that serve as critical inputs to atmospheric physical and chemical tools. We outline a number of areas where laboratory or ab initio investigations could fill critical gaps in our ability to model exoplanet atmospheric opacities, clouds, and chemistry. Specifically highlighted are needs for: (1) molecular opacity linelists with parameters for a diversity of broadening gases, (2) extended databases for collision-induced absorption and dimer opacities, (3) high spectral resolution opacity data for relevant molecular species, (4) laboratory studies of haze and condensate formation and optical properties, (5) significantly expanded databases of chemical reaction rates, and (6) measurements of gas photo-absorption cross sections at high temperatures. We hope that by meeting these needs, we can make the next two decades of exoplanet science as productive and insightful as the previous two decades.

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