Atmospheric circulations of terrestrial planets orbiting low-mass stars

Adam Edson, Sukyoung Lee, Peter Bannon, James F. Kasting, David Pollard

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

118 Scopus citations


Circulations and habitable zones of planets orbiting low-mass stars are investigated. Many of these planets are expected to rotate synchronously relative to their parent stars, thereby raising questions about their surface temperature distributions and habitability. We use a global circulation model to study idealized, synchronously rotating (tidally locked) planets of various rotation periods, with surfaces of all land or all water, but with an Earth-like atmosphere and solar insolation. The dry planets exhibit wide variations in surface temperature: >80 °C on the dayside to <-110 °C on the nightside for the 240-h rotator, for example. The water-covered aquaplanets are warmer and exhibit narrower ranges of surface temperatures, e.g., ∼40 °C to >-60 °C for the 240-h orbiter. They also have a larger habitable area, defined here as the region where average surface temperatures are between 0 °C and 50 °C. This concept has little relevance for either dry or aquaplanets, but might become relevant on a planet with both land area and oceans. The circulations on these tidally locked planets exhibit systematic changes as the rotation period is varied. However, they also reveal abrupt transitions between two different circulation regimes and multiple equilibria. For the dry planet, the transition occurs between a 4-day and a 5-day period, while for the aquaplanet, it occurs between a 3-day and a 4-day period. For both dry and aqua planets, this transition occurs when the Rossby deformation radius exceeds half the planetary radius. Further investigation on the dry planet reveals that multiple equilibria exist between 100- and 221-h periods. These multiple equilibria may be relevant for real planets within the habitable zones of late K and M stars, because these planets are expected to have rotation periods between 8 and 100 Earth days.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1-13
Number of pages13
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 1 2011

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


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