Kepler transit depths contaminated by a phantom star
Dalba, Paul A.
Muirhead, Philip S.
Kempton, Eliza M.-R.
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CitationPA Dalba, PS Muirhead, B Croll, EM - R Kempton. 2017. "Kepler Transit Depths Contaminated by a Phantom Star." The Astronomical Journal, Volume 153, Issue 2, pp. 59 - ?.
We present ground-based observations from the Discovery Channel Telescope (DCT) of three transits of Kepler-445c—a supposed super-Earth exoplanet with properties resembling GJ 1214b—and demonstrate that the transit depth is ~50% shallower than the depth previously inferred from Kepler spacecraft data. The resulting decrease in planetary radius significantly alters the interpretation of the exoplanet's bulk composition. Despite the faintness of the M4 dwarf host star, our ground-based photometry clearly recovers each transit and achieves repeatable 1σ precision of ~0.2% (2 millimags). The transit parameters estimated from the DCT data are discrepant with those inferred from the Kepler data to at least 17σ confidence. This inconsistency is due to a subtle miscalculation of the stellar crowding metric during the Kepler pre-search data conditioning (PDC). The crowding metric, or CROWDSAP, is contaminated by a non-existent phantom star originating in the USNO-B1 catalog and inherited by the Kepler Input Catalog (KIC). Phantom stars in the KIC are likely rare, but they have the potential to affect statistical studies of Kepler targets that use the PDC transit depths for a large number of exoplanets where an individual follow-up observation of each is not possible. The miscalculation of Kepler-445c's transit depth emphasizes the importance of stellar crowding in the Kepler data, and provides a cautionary tale for the analysis of data from the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite, which will have even larger pixels than Kepler.