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Perturbations, TTVs & the (Un)reliability of Ephemerides of Kepler Planets

Published onAug 03, 2020
Perturbations, TTVs & the (Un)reliability of Ephemerides of Kepler Planets

Fractional uncertainties quoted for orbital periods of the vast majority of planet candidates listed in recent Kepler catalogs are <10-5, with values ~10-6 (corresponding to 2 minutes per 4 years) being typical. These small uncertainties suggest ephemeris predictions for most Kepler planets are robust for decades to come. Tabulated periods list formal uncertainties in the mean times between midpoints of successive transits during the time interval in which transits were observed. However, transit timing variations (TTVs) produce errors in estimates of some planets’ orbital periods that need to be accounted for in certain dynamical investigations and ephemeris predictions. Periodic TTVs with timescales short compared to the interval of Kepler observations largely average out and do not produce significant errors in estimates of orbital periods. TTVs with timescales comparable to the interval of Kepler observations have been fit for dozens of Kepler planet candidates to estimate long-term average orbital periods (Holczer et al. 2016, ApJS 225, 9), and more detailed dynamical models have been used to estimate long-term average periods of a small number of well-studied planets. Most Kepler planets that show large TTVs are near mean-motion orbital resonances with other planets. The largest effect for planets moderately close to two-body resonances are due to rotation of the forced eccentricity vector by resonant perturbations; the timescale for this precession is typically short, so the variations tend to average out. Libration of planets locked in resonances typically occurs on timescales longer than the Kepler baseline, but few Kepler planets appear to be resonantly-locked. The more general but smaller (during the era of Kepler observations) effect is caused by secular precession of the planets' free eccentricities usually has a period much longer than the baseline of the Kepler observations, so it is not accounted for in estimates of mean periods or uncertainties. This precession causes a discrepancy between Kepler era mean orbital period and long-term mean orbital period can exist even for planets having TTVs that are too small to be observable during the epoch of Kepler observations.


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