Role of the impact parameter in exoplanet transmission spectroscopy

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  • X. Alexoudi, Leibniz Institute for Astrophysics Potsdam, Potsdam Graduate School, University of Potsdam
  • ,
  • M. Mallonn, Leibniz Institute for Astrophysics Potsdam
  • ,
  • E. Keles, Leibniz Institute for Astrophysics Potsdam, University of Potsdam
  • ,
  • K. Poppenhager, Leibniz Institute for Astrophysics Potsdam, University of Potsdam
  • ,
  • C. Von Essen
  • K. G. Strassmeier, Leibniz Institute for Astrophysics Potsdam, University of Potsdam

Context. Transmission spectroscopy is a promising tool for the atmospheric characterization of transiting exoplanets. Because the planetary signal is faint, discrepancies have been reported regarding individual targets. Aims. We investigate the dependence of the estimated transmission spectrum on deviations of the orbital parameters of the star-planet system that are due to the limb-darkening effects of the host star. We describe how the uncertainty on the orbital parameters translates into an uncertainty on the planetary spectral slope. Methods. We created synthetic transit light curves in seven different wavelength bands, from the near-ultraviolet to the near-infrared, and fit them with transit models parameterized by fixed deviating values of the impact parameter b. First, we performed a qualitative study to illustrate the effect by presenting the changes in the transmission spectrum slope with different deviations of b. Then, we quantified these variations by creating an error envelope (for centrally transiting, off-center, and grazing systems) based on a derived typical uncertainty on b from the literature. Finally, we compared the variations in the transmission spectra for different spectral types of host stars. Results. Our simulations show a wavelength-dependent offset that is more pronounced at the blue wavelengths where the limb-darkening effect is stronger. This offset introduces a slope in the planetary transmission spectrum that becomes steeper with increasing b values. Variations of b by positive or negative values within its uncertainty interval introduce positive or negative slopes, thus the formation of an error envelope. The amplitude from blue optical to near-infrared wavelength for a typical uncertainty on b corresponds to one atmospheric pressure scale height and more. This impact parameter degeneracy is confirmed for different host types; K stars present prominently steeper slopes, while M stars indicate features at the blue wavelengths. Conclusions. We demonstrate that transmission spectra can be hard to interpret, basically because of the limitations in defining a precise impact parameter value for a transiting exoplanet. This consequently limits a characterization of its atmosphere.

TidsskriftAstronomy and Astrophysics
StatusUdgivet - aug. 2020

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