Detectability of extrasolar moons as gravitational microlenses
Astronomisches Rechen-Institut, Zentrum für Astronomie der Universität Heidelberg, Mönchhofstraße 12-14, 69120 Heidelberg, Germany e-mail: [cliebig;jkw]@ari.uni-heidelberg.de
Accepted: 25 April 2010
We evaluate gravitational lensing as a technique for the detection of extrasolar moons. Since 2004 gravitational microlensing has been successfully applied as a detection method for extrasolar planets. In principle, the method is sensitive to masses as low as an Earth mass or even a fraction of it. Hence it seems natural to investigate the microlensing effects of moons around extrasolar planets. We explore the simplest conceivable triple lens system, containing one star, one planet and one moon. From a microlensing point of view, this system can be modelled as a particular triple with hierarchical mass ratios very different from unity. Since the moon orbits the planet, the planet-moon separation will be small compared to the distance between planet and star. Such a configuration can lead to a complex interference of caustics. We present detectability and detection limits by comparing triple-lens light curves to best-fit binary light curves as caused by a double-lens system consisting of host star and planet – without moon. We simulate magnification patterns covering a range of mass and separation values using the inverse ray shooting technique. These patterns are processed by analysing a large number of light curves and fitting a binary case to each of them. A chi-squared criterion is used to quantify the detectability of the moon in a number of selected triple-lens scenarios. The results of our simulations indicate that it is feasible to discover extrasolar moons via gravitational microlensing through frequent and highly precise monitoring of anomalous Galactic microlensing events with dwarf source stars.
Key words: gravitational lensing: micro / planets and satellites: general / methods: numerical / methods: statistical
© ESO, 2010