On the feasibility of exomoon detection via exoplanet phase curve spectral contrast

D. H. Forgan*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Citations (Scopus)


An exoplanet-exomoon system presents a superposition of phase curves to observers - the dominant component varies according to the planetary period, and the lesser component varies according to both the planetary and the lunar periods. If the spectra of the two bodies differ significantly, then it is likely that there are wavelength regimes where the contrast between the moon and planet is significantly larger. In principle, this effect could be used to isolate periodic oscillations in the combined phase curve. Being able to detect the exomoon component would allow a characterization of the exomoon radius, and potentially some crude atmospheric data. We run a parameter survey of combined exoplanet-exomoon phase curves, which shows that for most sets of planet-moon parameters, the lunar component of the phase curve is undetectable to current state-of-the-art transit observations. Even with future transit survey missions, measuring the exomoon signal will most likely require photometric precision of 10 parts per million or better. The only exception to this is if the moon is strongly tidally heated or in some way self-luminous. In this case, measurements of the phase curve at wavelengths greater than a few μm can be dominated by the lunar contribution. Instruments like the James Webb Space Telescope and its successors are needed to make this method feasible.

Original languageEnglish
Article numberstx1217
Pages (from-to)416-426
Number of pages11
JournalMonthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society
Issue number1
Early online date17 May 2017
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2017


  • Planets and satellites: atmospheres
  • Planets and satellites: detection
  • Planets and satellites: general


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