The atmospheres of rocky exoplanets. II. Influence of surface composition on the diversity of cloud condensates

Oliver Herbort*, Peter Woitke, Christiane Helling, Aubrey Zerkle

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Clouds are an integral part of planetary atmospheres, with most planets hosting clouds. Understanding not only the formation, but also the composition of clouds, is crucial to understand future observations. As observations of the planet's surface will remain very difficult, it is essential to link the observable high atmosphere gas and cloud composition to the surface conditions. We present a fast and simple chemical equilibrium model for the troposphere of rocky exoplanets, which is in chemical and phase equilibrium with the crust. The hydrostatic equilibrium atmosphere is built from bottom to top. In each atmospheric layer, chemical equilibrium is solved and all thermally stable condensates are removed, depleting the atmosphere above in the effected elements. These removed condensates build an upper limit for cloud formation and can be separated into high and low temperature condensates. The most important cloud condensates for 1000K < Tgas < 400K are KCl[s], NaCl[s], FeS[s], FeS2[s], FeO[s], Fe2O3[s], and Fe3O4[s]. For Tgas ≤ 400K H2O[l,s], C[s], NH3[s], NH4Cl[s], and NH4SH[s] are thermally stable, while for even lower temperatures of Tgas ≤ 150K CO2[s], CH4[s], NH3[s], and H2S[s] become stable. The inclusion of clouds with trace abundances results in the thermal stability of a total of 72 condensates for atmospheres with different surface conditions (300K > Tsurf > 1000K and psurf = 1 bar; 100 bar). The different cloud condensates are not independent of each other, but follow sequences of condensation, which are robust against changes in crust composition, surface pressure, and surface temperature. Independent of the existence of water as a crust condensate, H2O[l,s] is a thermally stable cloud condensate for all investigated elemental abundances. However, the water cloud base depends on the hydration level of the crust. Therefore, the detection of water condensates alone does not necessarily imply stable water on the surface, even if the temperature could allow for water condensation.

Original languageEnglish
Article numberA180
Number of pages24
JournalAstronomy & Astrophysics
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2022


  • planets and satellites: terrestrial planets; planets and satellites: atmospheres; planets and satellites: composition; planets and satellites: surfaces; astrochemistry; Astrophysics - Earth and Planetary Astrophysics
  • Planets and satellites: Atmospheres
  • Astrochemistry
  • Planets and satellites: Surfaces
  • Planets and satellites: terrestrial planets
  • Planets and satellites: composition

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physics and Astronomy(all)
  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science

Fields of Expertise

  • Information, Communication & Computing
  • Advanced Materials Science

Treatment code (Nähere Zuordnung)

  • Theoretical


  • NAWI Graz

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