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Journal Article

Signal preservation of exomoon transits during light curve folding


Heller,  René
Department Solar and Stellar Interiors, Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research, Max Planck Society;

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Heller, R., & Hippke, M. (2022). Signal preservation of exomoon transits during light curve folding. Astronomy and Astrophysics, 657, A119. doi:10.1051/0004-6361/202142403.

Cite as: https://hdl.handle.net/21.11116/0000-000C-931A-1
In the search for moons around extrasolar planets (exomoons), astronomers are confronted with a stunning observation. Although 3400 of the 4500 exoplanets were discovered with the transit method and although there are well over 25 times as many moons than planets known in the Solar System (two of which are larger than Mercury), no exomoon has been discovered to date. In the search for exoplanet transits, stellar light curves are usually phase-folded over a range of trial epochs and periods. This approach, however, is not applicable in a straightforward manner to exomoons. Planet-moon transits either have to be modeled in great detail (including their orbital dynamics, mutual eclipses, etc.), which is computationally expensive, or key simplifications have to be assumed in the modeling. One such simplification is to search for moon transits outside of the planetary transits. The question we address in this report is how much in-transit data of an exomoon remains uncontaminated by the near-simultaneous transits of its host planet. We develop an analytical framework based on the probability density of the sky-projected apparent position of an exomoon relative to its planet and test our results with a numerical planet-moon transit simulator. For exomoons with planet-moon orbital separations similar to the Galilean moons, we find that only a small fraction of their in-transit data is uncontaminated by planetary transits: 14% for Io, 20% for Europa, 42% for Ganymede, and 73% for Callisto. The signal-to-noise ratio (S/N) of an out-of-planetary-transit folding technique is reduced compared to a full photodynamical model to about 38% (Io), 45% (Europa), 65% (Ganymede), and 85% (Callisto), respectively. For the Earth's Moon, we find an uncontaminated data fraction of typically just 18% and a resulting S/N reduction to 42%. These values are astonishingly small and suggest that the gain in speed for any exomoon transit search algorithm that ignores the planetary in-transit data comes at the heavy price of losing a substantial fraction of what is supposedly a tiny signal in the first place. We conclude that photodynamical modeling of the entire light curve has substantial, and possibly essential, advantages over folding techniques of exomoon transits outside the planetary transits, in particular for small exomoons comparable to those of the Solar System.