What are Opacities?

All studies of atmospheres, whether it be on Earth, on a distant planet, or even a distant star, require an understanding of how gas interacts with light at all wavelengths across the electromagnetic spectrum. This is because molecules and atoms have intricate absorption and emission spectra that act as a barcode, allowing astronomers to quantify and identify molecules and atoms in any type of atmosphere. Moreover, the absorption spectra of each molecule or atom are affected by the temperature, pressure, and gas mixture environment that it resides in. For example, the absorption spectrum of water in our atmosphere is unique and has important information about the Earth’s temperature, pressure, and Nitrogen-based air mixture. Water in Jupiter, however, exists at much cooler temperatures and is bathed in a hydrogen and helium mixture, giving it a different spectrum entirely.
Using pattern recognition techniques we can leverage this physical phenomenon to identify molecules in planet- and stellar-atmospheres, and even determine their climates. But in order to do so, we need to first compute these data, called opacities. Much like the meaning of the word opacity, opacities tell us the absorptive qualities of molecules and atoms (in other words, their opaqueness at each wavelength). MAESTRO is a curated database of these opacities. For each molecule, we provide these spectra at varying temperatures and pressure so you can explore the properties of a huge diversity of molecules and atoms!