Inferring asymmetric limb cloudiness on exoplanets from transit light curves
Université Bordeaux, LAB, UMR 5804,
2 CNRS, LAB, UMR 5804, 33270 Floirac, France
Received: 4 December 2015
Accepted: 12 February 2016
Context. Clouds have been shown to be present in many exoplanetary atmospheres. Cloud formation modeling predicts considerable inhomogeneities of cloud cover, consistent with optical phase curve observations. However, optical phase curves cannot resolve some existing degeneracies between cloud location and cloud optical properties.
Aims. We present a conceptually simple technique for detecting inhomogeneous cloud cover on exoplanets. Such an inhomogeneous cloud cover produces an asymmetric primary transit of the planet in front of the host star. Asymmetric transits produce characteristic residuals that are different from standard symmetric models. Furthermore, bisector spans can be used to determine asymmetries in the transit light curve.
Methods. We apply a model of asymmetric transits to the light curves of HAT-P-7b, Kepler-7b, and HD 209458b and search for possible cloud signatures. The nearly uninterrupted Kepler photometry is particularly well suited for this method since it allows for a very high time resolution.
Results. We do not find any statistically sound cloud signature in the data of the considered planets. For HAT-P-7b, a tentative detection of an asymmetric cloud cover is found, consistent with analysis of the optical phase curve. Based on Bayesian probability arguments, a symmetric model with an offset in the transit ephemeris is still the most viable model. This work demonstrates that for suitable targets, namely low-gravity planets around bright stars, the method can be used to constrain cloud cover characteristics and is thus a helpful additional tool for the study of exoplanetary atmospheres.
Key words: techniques: photometric / planets and satellites: atmospheres / planets and satellites: individual: Kepler-7b / planets and satellites: individual: HAT-P-7b / planets and satellites: individual: HD 209458b
© ESO, 2016