The influence of forward-scattered light in transmission measurements of (exo)planetary atmospheres

R.J. De Kok*, D.M. Stam

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

31 Citations (Scopus)


The transmission of light through a planetary atmosphere can be studied as a function of altitude and wavelength using stellar or solar occultations, giving often unique constraints on the atmospheric composition. For exoplanets, a transit yields a limb-integrated, wavelength-dependent transmission spectrum of an atmosphere. When scattering haze and/or cloud particles are present in the planetary atmosphere, the amount of transmitted flux not only depends on the total optical thickness of the slant light path that is probed, but also on the amount of forward-scattering by the scattering particles. Here, we present results of calculations with a three-dimensional Monte Carlo code that simulates the transmitted flux during occultations or transits. For isotropically scattering particles, like gas molecules, the transmitted flux appears to be well-described by the total atmospheric optical thickness. Strongly forward-scattering particles, however, such as commonly found in atmospheres of Solar System planets, can increase the transmitted flux significantly. For exoplanets, such added flux can decrease the apparent radius of the planet by several scale heights, which is comparable to predicted and measured features in exoplanet transit spectra. We performed detailed calculations for Titan's atmosphere between 2.0 and 2.8. μm and show that haze and gas abundances will be underestimated by about 8% if forward-scattering is ignored in the retrievals. At shorter wavelengths, errors in the gas and haze abundances and in the spectral slope of the haze particles can be several tens of percent, also for other Solar System planetary atmospheres. We also find that the contribution of forward-scattering can be fairly well described by modelling the atmosphere as a plane-parallel slab. This potentially reduces the need for a full three-dimensional Monte Carlo code for calculating transmission spectra of atmospheres that contain forward-scattering particles.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)517-524
Number of pages8
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2012
Externally publishedYes


  • Atmospheres, Composition
  • Extrasolar planets
  • Radiative transfer


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