Transit Light Curves with Finite Integration Time: Fisher Information Analysis (Fix Title)


Kepler has revolutionized the study of transiting planets with its unprecedented photometric precision on more than 150,000 target stars. Most of the thousands of transiting planet candidates detected by Kepler have been observed as long-cadence targets with 30 minute exposure times, and the upcoming Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) will record full frame images with a similar integration time. Analytic approximations for the variances and covariances on the transit parameters can be derived from fitting non-binned light curve photometry to a non-binned model. Integrations of 30 minutes affect the transit shape, particularly for small planets and in cases of low signal to noise. We derive light curve models in terms of the transit parameters and exposure time, and we used the Fisher information matrix technique to derive the variances and covariances among the parameters due to fitting these binned models to binned data. We found that binning the light curve can significantly increase the uncertainties and covariances on the inferred parameters. Uncertainties on the transit ingress/egress time can increase by a factor of 34 for Earth-size planets and 3.4 for Jupiter-size planets around Sun-like stars for exposure times of 30 minutes compared to instantaneously-sampled light curves. Similarly, uncertainties on the mid-transit time for Earth- and Jupiter-size planets increase by factors of 3.9 and 1.4, respectively. On the other hand, uncertainties on the transit depth are largely unaffected by finite exposure times (increasing by a factor of only 1.07 under the influence of 30 minute exposure times). While correlations among the transit depth, ingress duration, and transit duration all increase in magnitude with longer exposure times, the mid-transit time remains uncorrelated with the other parameters. We provide code for predicting the variances and covariances of any set of planet parameters and exposure times at


The Kepler mission has discovered thousands of transiting planet candidates, ushering in a new era of exoplanet discovery and statistical analysis. The lightcurve produced by the transit of a planet across the disk of its star can provide insights into the planet inclination; eccentricity; stellar density; multiplicity, using transit-timing variations (TTVs); and — in special cases — the planet atmosphere, using transmission spectroscopy. As the analysis of Kepler data pushes toward Earth-size planets on Earth-like orbits, it is imperative to account for and understand the uncertainties and covariances in the parameters that can be inferred from a transit light curve.

Carter et al. (2008) performed a Fisher information analysis on a simplified trapezoidal transit light curve model to derive analytic approximations for transit parameters as well as their uncertainties and covariances. These analytic approximations are useful when planning observations (e.g. assessing how many transits are needed for a given signal-to-noise on the derived planet properties), optimizing transit data analysis (e.g. by choosing uncorrelated combinations of parameters), and estimating the observability of subtle transit effects. However, Carter et al. assumed that the light curves were instantaneously sampled, and as a result did not account for the effect of finite integration times.

Most Kepler planets are observed with long-cadence, 30-minute exposure times. A finite integration time (temporal binning) induces morphological distortions in the transit light curve. Kipping (2010) studied these distortions and their effect on the measured light curve parameters. The main effect of finite exposure time is to smear out the transit light curve into a broader shape, with the apparent ingress/egress increased by an integration time, and the apparent duration of the flat bottom of totality is decreased by an integration time. As a consequence,