The Effects of Stellar Activity on Detecting and Characterising Planets

Intrinsic stellar variability associated with magnetic activity, rotation and convection, affects the detection of exoplanets via the transit and radial velocity methods, and the characterisation of their atmospheres. I will review the increasingly sophisticated methods developed in the last few years to mitigate this problem, and outline how stellar variability is likely to impact the field of exoplanets in the future. Planetary transits last a few hours, much shorter than the rotational modulation of star spots (day to weeks), but smaller-scale variability is nonetheless an important limiting factor in our ability to detect transits of Earth analogs in Kepler and Plato data. In radial velocity, the problem is even more severe, as the planet’s signal occurs on the orbital timescale, which can coincide with the range expected for stellar rotation periods or activity cycles - but the spectra used to extract radial velocities contain a wealth of information about stellar activity that can be used to disentangle the two types of signals. Finally, when using transits or phase curves to probe the composition and dynamics of planetary atmospheres, star spots must be accounted for very carefully, as they can mimic or mask planetary atmosphere signals. On the positive side, the sensitivity of planet search and characterisation experiments to stellar activity means that they are a treasure trove of information about stellar activity. The continued success of exoplanet surveys depends on our making the best possible use of this information.

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CC BY 4.0