Transiting exoplanets offer a unique opportunity to study the atmospheres of terrestrial worlds in other systems in the coming decade. By absorbing and scattering starlight, exoplanet atmospheres produce spectroscopic transit depth variations that allow us to probe their physical structures and chemical compositions. These same variations, however, can be introduced by the photospheric heterogeneity of the host star (i.e., the transit light source effect). Recent modeling efforts and increasingly precise observations are revealing that our understanding of transmission spectra of the smallest transiting exoplanets will likely be limited by our knowledge of host star photospheres. Here we outline promising scientific opportunities for the next decade that can provide useful constraints on stellar photospheres and inform interpretations of transmission spectra of the smallest (R < 4Ro) exoplanets. We identify and discuss four primary opportunities: (1) refining stellar magnetic active region properties through exoplanet crossing events; (2) spectral decomposition of active exoplanet host stars; (3) joint retrievals of stellar photospheric and planetary atmospheric properties with studies of transmission spectra; and (4) continued visual transmission spectroscopy studies to complement longer-wavelength studies from JWST. In this context, we make five recommendations to the Astro2020 Decadal Survey Committee: (1) identify the transit light source (TLS) effect as a challenge to precise exoplanet transmission spectroscopy and an opportunity ripe for scientific advancement in the coming decade; (2) include characterization of host star photospheric heterogeneity as part of a comprehensive research strategy for studying transiting exoplanets; (3) support the construction of ground-based extremely large telescopes (ELTs); (4) support multi-disciplinary research teams that bring together the heliophysics, stellar physics, and exoplanet communities to further exploit transiting exoplanets as spatial probes of stellar photospheres; and (5) support visual transmission spectroscopy efforts as complements to longer-wavelength observational campaigns with JWST.
|Original language||English (US)|
|State||Published - Mar 14 2019|
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