Periastron precession measurements in transiting extrasolar planetary systems at the level of general relativity

Authors

  • András Pál,

    Corresponding author
    1. Harvard–Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, 60 Garden Street, Cambridge, MA 02138, USA
    2. Department of Astronomy, Loránd Eötvös University, Pázmány P. st. 1/A, Budapest H-1117, Hungary
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  • Bence Kocsis

    Corresponding author
    1. Harvard–Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, 60 Garden Street, Cambridge, MA 02138, USA
    2. Department of Atomic Physics, Institute of Physics, Loránd Eötvös University, Pázmány P. st. 1/A, Budapest H-1117, Hungary
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E-mail: apal@cfa.harvard.edu (AP); bkocsis@cfa.harvard.edu (BK)

ABSTRACT

Transiting exoplanetary systems are surpassingly important among the planetary systems since they provide the widest spectrum of information for both the planet and the host star. If a transiting planet is on an eccentric orbit, the duration of transits TD is sensitive to the orientation of the orbital ellipse relative to the line of sight. The precession of the orbit results in a systematic variation in both the duration of individual transit events and the observed period between successive transits, Pobs. The periastron of the ellipse slowly precesses due to general relativity and possibly the presence of other planets in the system. This secular precession can be detected through the long-term change in Pobs (transit timing variations, TTV) or in TD (transit duration variations, TDV). We estimate the corresponding precession measurement precision for repeated future observations of the known eccentric transiting exoplanetary systems (XO-3b, HD 147506b, GJ 436b and HD 17156b) using existing or planned space-borne instruments. The TDV measurement improves the precession detection sensitivity by orders of magnitude over the TTV measurement. We find that TDV measurements over a approximately 4 yr period can typically detect the precession rate to a precision well exceeding the level predicted by general relativity.

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