How do starspots influence the transit timing variations of exoplanets? Simulations of individual and consecutive transits
Hamburger Sternwarte, Universität Hamburg,
Received: 13 August 2015
Accepted: 9 October 2015
Transit timing variations (TTVs) of exoplanets are normally interpreted as the consequence of gravitational interaction with additional bodies in the system. However, TTVs can also be caused by deformations of the system transits by starspots, which might thus pose a serious complication in their interpretation. We therefore simulate transit light curves deformed by spot-crossing events for different properties of the stellar surface and the planet, such as starspot position, limb darkening, planetary period, and impact parameter. Mid-transit times determined from these simulations can be significantly shifted with respect to the input values; these shifts cannot be larger than 1% of the transit duration and depend very strongly on the longitudinal position of the spot during the transit and the transit duration. Consequently, TTVs with amplitudes larger than the above limit are very unlikely to be caused by starspots. We also investigate whether TTVs from sequences of consecutive transits with spot-crossing anomalies can be misinterpreted as the result of an additional body in the system. We use the Generalized Lomb-Scargle periodogram to search for periods in TTVs and conclude that low-amplitude TTVs with statistically significant periods around active stars are the most problematic cases. In those cases where the photometric precision is high enough to inspect the transit shapes for deformations it should be possible to identify TTVs caused by starspots; however, especially for cases with low signal-to-noise in transit (TSNR ≲ 15) light curves it becomes quite difficult to reliably decide whether these periods come from starspots, physical companions in the system, or if they are random noise artifacts.
Key words: starspots / stars: activity / planetary systems / methods: numerical / eclipses / occultations
© ESO, 2015