5 years ago

The Transit Light Source Problem: False Spectral Features and Incorrect Densities for M Dwarf Transiting Planets.

Benjamin V. Rackham, Dániel Apai, Mark S. Giampapa

Transmission spectra are differential measurements that utilize stellar illumination to probe transiting exoplanet atmospheres. Any spectral difference between the illuminating light source and the disk-integrated stellar spectrum due to starspots and faculae will be imprinted in the observed transmission spectrum. However, few constraints exist for the extent of photospheric heterogeneities in M dwarfs. Here, we model spot and faculae covering fractions consistent with observed photometric variabilities for M dwarfs and the associated 0.3-5.5 $\mu$m stellar contamination spectra. We find that large ranges of spot and faculae covering fractions are consistent with observations and corrections assuming a linear relation between variability amplitude and covering fractions generally underestimate the stellar contamination. Using realistic estimates for spot and faculae covering fractions, we find stellar contamination can be more than $10 \times$ larger than transit depth changes expected for atmospheric features in rocky exoplanets. We also find that stellar spectral contamination can lead to systematic errors in radius and therefore the derived density of small planets. In the case of the TRAPPIST-1 system, we show that TRAPPIST-1's rotational variability is consistent with spot covering fractions $f_{spot} = 8^{+18}_{-7}\%$ and faculae covering fractions $f_{fac} = 54^{+16}_{-46}\%$. The associated stellar contamination signals alter transit depths of the TRAPPIST-1 planets at wavelengths of interest for planetary atmospheric species by roughly 1-15 $\times$ the strength of planetary features, significantly complicating \textit{JWST} follow-up observations of this system. Similarly, we find stellar contamination can lead to underestimates of bulk densities of the TRAPPIST-1 planets of $\Delta(\rho) = -8^{+7}_{-20} \%$, thus leading to overestimates of their volatile contents.

Publisher URL: http://arxiv.org/abs/1711.05691

DOI: arXiv:1711.05691v1

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