Traces of exomoons in computed flux and polarization phase curves of starlight reflected by exoplanets
Faculty of Aerospace Engineering, Delft University of Technology,
2 GMV AD, Calle de Isaac Newton 11, 28760 Tres Cantos, Madrid, Spain
Accepted: 23 July 2018
Context. Detecting moons around exoplanets is a major goal of current and future observatories. Moons are suspected to influence rocky exoplanet habitability, and gaseous exoplanets in stellar habitable zones could harbor abundant and diverse moons to target in the search for extraterrestrial habitats. Exomoons contribute to exoplanetary signals but are virtually undetectable with current methods.
Aims. We identify and analyze traces of exomoons in the temporal variation of total and polarized fluxes of starlight reflected by an Earth-like exoplanet and its spatially unresolved moon across all phase angles, with both orbits viewed in an edge-on geometry.
Methods. We compute the total and linearly polarized fluxes, and the degree of linear polarization P of starlight that is reflected by the exoplanet with its moon along their orbits, accounting for the temporal variation of the visibility of the planetary and lunar disks, and including the effects of mutual transits and mutual eclipses. Our computations pertain to a wavelength of 450 nm.
Results. Total flux F shows regular dips due to planetary and lunar transits and eclipses. Polarization P shows regular peaks due to planetary transits and lunar eclipses, and P can increase and/or slightly decrease during lunar transits and planetary eclipses. Changes in F and P will depend on the radii of the planet and moon, on their reflective properties, and their orbits, and are about one magnitude smaller than the smooth background signals. The typical duration of a transit or an eclipse is a few hours.
Conclusions. Traces of an exomoon due to planetary and lunar transits and eclipses show up in the F and P of sunlight reflected by planet–moon systems and could be searched for in exoplanet flux and/or polarization phase functions.
Key words: methods: numerical / polarization / radiative transfer / planetary systems / planets and satellites: detection
© ESO 2018