Context. Clouds are ubiquitous in exoplanet atmospheres and they represent a challenge for the model interpretation of their spectra. When generating a large number of model spectra, complex cloud models often prove too costly numerically, whereas more efficient models may be overly simplified. Aims. We aim to constrain the atmospheric properties of the directly imaged planet HR 8799e with a free retrieval approach. Methods. We used our radiative transfer code petitRADTRANS for generating the spectra, which we coupled to the PyMultiNest tool. We added the effect of multiple scattering which is important for treating clouds. Two cloud model parameterizations are tested: the first incorporates the mixing and settling of condensates, the second simply parameterizes the functional form of the opacity. Results. In mock retrievals, using an inadequate cloud model may result in atmospheres that are more isothermal and less cloudy than the input. Applying our framework on observations of HR 8799e made with the GPI, SPHERE, and GRAVITY, we find a cloudy atmosphere governed by disequilibrium chemistry, confirming previous analyses. We retrieve that C/O = 0.60-0.08+0.07. Other models have not yet produced a well constrained C/O value for this planet. The retrieved C/O values of both cloud models are consistent, while leading to different atmospheric structures: either cloudy or more isothermal and less cloudy. Fitting the observations with the self-consistent Exo-REM model leads to comparable results, without constraining C/O. Conclusions. With data from the most sensitive instruments, retrieval analyses of directly imaged planets are possible. The inferred C/O ratio of HR 8799e is independent of the cloud model and thus appears to be a robust. This C/O is consistent with stellar, which could indicate that the HR 8799e formed outside the CO2 or CO iceline. As it is the innermost planet of the system, this constraint could apply to all HR 8799 planets.
- Instrumentation: spectrographs
- Methods: numerical
- Planets and satellites: atmospheres
- Radiative transfer
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Astronomy and Astrophysics
- Space and Planetary Science