August 2023 • 2023AJ....166...77R
Abstract • Photoevaporation is a potential explanation for several features within exoplanet demographics. Atmospheric escape observed in young Neptune-sized exoplanets can provide insight into and characterize which mechanisms drive this evolution and at what times they dominate. AU Mic b is one such exoplanet, slightly larger than Neptune (4.19 R ⊕). It closely orbits a 23 Myr pre-main-sequence M dwarf with an orbital period of 8.46 days. We obtained two visits of AU Mic b at Lyα with Hubble Space Telescope (HST)/Space Telescope Imaging Spectrograph. One flare within the first HST visit is characterized and removed from our search for a planetary transit. We present a nondetection in our first visit, followed by the detection of escaping neutral hydrogen ahead of the planet in our second visit. The outflow absorbed ~30% of the star's Lyα blue wing 2.5 hr before the planet's white-light transit. We estimate that the highest-velocity escaping material has a column density of 1013.96 cm-2 and is moving 61.26 km s-1 away from the host star. AU Mic b's large high-energy irradiation could photoionize its escaping neutral hydrogen in 44 minutes, rendering it temporarily unobservable. Our time-variable Lyα transit ahead of AU Mic b could also be explained by an intermediate stellar wind strength from AU Mic that shapes the escaping material into a leading tail. Future Lyα observations of this system will confirm and characterize the unique variable nature of its Lyα transit, which, combined with modeling, will tune the importance of stellar wind and photoionization.